How to Kill a Conversation

Conversations drive our lives. They mean everything.

Yet we all face the temptation to do something every day – sometimes several times each day – to mess them up.

I dare you to tell me the following hasn’t happened to you.

  • You’re in the midst of a conversation and someone else is speaking and – BAM! – you are hit with a brilliant point. But the other person is still talking and you worry you might lose your moment. So you cut the person off and jump in.
  • You’re chatting with a colleague and she is going on and on about her fight with her sister. You have lost all interest and as the minutes tick by you just can’t take it anymore.  So you cut her off and jump in.
  • You’re with a group of friends and you’re on a roll, right in the middle of your favorite story about the wacky neighbor and – just as you get to the best part – the guy across from you cuts you off and jumps into his own tale of domestic hijinks. Your punch line is lost forever.

Each day we sit in meetings, at luncheons, at family dinners and we engage in a dialogue.

With each one we strive to find that perfect exchange. We speak, then let others do the same, then wait for the pregnant pause that indicates it’s our turn again. It’s often an easy process.


Other times the dialogue feels like more of a monologue. The other person uses extra details or wants to take us through a situation from start to finish or begins to process out loud.

We want to share our thoughts. We want to move on.

We want to interrupt.

We can barely contain ourselves.

What to do?


Because that will kill the conversation.

I say this to you knowing that I am guilty of interrupting people every day for all kinds of reasons.

  • I interrupt friends in the middle of a discussion about Facebook to tell my own funny story about a post that went wrong
  • I interrupt colleagues when they are in the middle of asking me a question because I think I know what they want
  • I interrupt the server when he’s in the middle of telling me the specials because I’ve already picked my meal

What I know is, in the end, this does not reflect on the other person. It might make them feel bad. It might make them angry. Heck, it might not even phase them.

But it shows something about me. It shows that I don’t have enough patience to give others the time and space to share what’s on their mind.

It shows I lack courtesy. It shows I am less professional. It shows I respect people less.

It shows I am pretty high on my own words but not very impressed by the words of others.

I know what you’re thinking.

But…what about those who will go on forever if you let them? What about when it’s in a meeting with the boss and this other person always takes the floor? What about when there is limited time?

There will always be time when we feel we can justify interrupting. Lots of people monopolize conversations. We all know who they are.

But we want to be seen as the great people we are. We want to be professionals. We want to be effective leaders.

How we handle these seemingly simple chats can help…or hurt us.

When people speak they are giving something to you. They are giving you their time (even if it’s too much), their feedback (even if you didn’t ask), the details of their lives (even if they don’t matter).

The point is that these details matter to them. When you cut them off you’re clearly stating that their words don’t matter to you. Perhaps that they don’t matter to you.

You probably don’t mean it that way. But that’s how your actions may very well be perceived.


Let them speak. Let them finish.

Resist killing the conversation. Even if it kills you.

If you find yourself in a situation with people who constantly do this, figure out if it’s worth it for you to be around them or else stop getting together.

  • Got a co-worker who won’t stop talking? Stop passing by that person’s desk.
  • Got a friend who never takes a breath? Consider pulling back.
  • Is the relationship one where you don’t have a choice – or one that you value enough to make it work? Talk to the person about it…just do it nicely.

After all, you have a right. You have limited hours to get things done. You deserve the time to speak up at a meeting, to get your needs met during girl talk. Telling someone these points – kindly – is professional. Telling someone that they never shut up is not.

If your managers can help handle long-talkers in meetings or seating arrangements at the office, talk to them professionally and brainstorm solutions.

(Oh…and if it’s a family member? One who you can’t talk to directly about this? Suck it up or move on. Those are your options because things probably won’t change.)

Now, what about the opposite? What about when others interrupt you? Do the same rules apply?


This is not about what others do. This is about how you want to be perceived. How your actions reflect the person you want to be.

Yes, people will interrupt you. But that’s where your grace comes in. That’s where you nod with interest and smile and let them finish.

Nobody said life is fair. But, in the end, you’ll get further in it when you rise above…when you refuse to kill a conversation.

Not only will you stand out from the crowd. You’ll also be a better leader.

And people will enjoy you – and your conversation – a whole lot more.

Now, go do good…and do it well.


28 responses to “How to Kill a Conversation”

  1. Mark Avatar

    Yeah, but…but…but…

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Ha…funny comment Mark. Maybe my next post should be on the dangers of the word “but”???

  2. Rhonda Rhyne Avatar
    Rhonda Rhyne

    We learn much more by listening to others rather than ourselves. Great message Deirdre!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks so much, Rhonda. It’s a humbling lessons, isn’t it? And much harder top put into practice than it seems!

  3. Jen Avatar

    That’s an interesting choice you present: to continue to engage with the same person and listen time & again, or to move on. It feels empowering to make the decision to value a particular relationship enough listen – even when that person talks too much or is a rude conversationalist.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks for this, Jen. I think far too often we let ourselves believe we just don’t have a choice. I appreciate your use of the word “empowering”…better to come at it from that perspective than to allow ourselves to believe we’re all victims!

  4. brad hurvitz Avatar

    In my experience with the most successful people I have met, they do the least amount of talking at the table. Listening is a very valuable lesson indeed. Great article, Deirdre!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      I’m with you. That’s why I struggle to do the same thing everyday…and remind myself that my insights are no more brilliant than anyone else’s! Thanks for the comment, Brad!

  5. Steve Coopersmith Avatar

    Insightful article. We all think we have so much to say. This makes you think about taking the time to listen as well.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Indeed…for some reason listening is just so much harder than it seems it should be, yes? I guess it just comes down to human nature. How’s that for the ultimate scapegoat? Thanks for the comment, Steve!

  6. gloria regan Avatar

    This was a good lesson for me in . . . humility! Also, in being brave enough to speak to someone I care about and speak to this issue.
    My cousin comes to mind. She’s learned a new term Too Much information . TMI.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks for this, Gloria! I actually think speaking to the issue directly is the toughest part of all. But in the end, I agree that it’s a whole lot better than rolling our eyes when we think the person isn’t watching…

  7. Anita Rodriguez-Lambert Avatar

    I have found myself interrupting people and catching myself. It is hard and I always hate myself when I do it. I think I am better at it now. I just remember how impressed I am when the person I just interrupted handles it with style and grace. I want to be like her. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks for the honest reply, Anita. I’m right there with you! At least we’re catching ourselves…this is a process after all. 🙂

  8. Patricia Costa Avatar
    Patricia Costa

    Right on target Deirdre! Thanks for the courage to address this delicate topic. I can’t tell you how many times I find myself in this situation. It has made ME more aware of not talking ad nauseum. With those who do, I try to choose times when one or both of us are time limited and avoid others if I am really tired and not able to handle the conversation.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Great ideas! Nothing like HAVING to end a converstion for another meeting or appointment to get through a long discussion! Another person emailed me to say he actually stays standing when someone walks into his office so that he can move things along. I love creative solutions like these!

  9. Karen Jackson Avatar

    Thanks for the reminder….I think we all need to take a deep breathe & remember this valuable information.!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      I agree…the problem for me is that I have to take this deep breath a lot! Thanks for your comment, Karen!

  10. Cassandra George Ramos Avatar
    Cassandra George Ramos

    As the old Chinese saying goes (and I’m paraphrasing here), “We have been given two ears but only one mouth. We should listen twice as much as we talk.”

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Indeed – a great reminder from a great proverb.Thanks Cassandra!

  11. Lia Avatar

    Amazingly I was just in a meeting and found myself interrupting someone. I was mortified and apologized… said please continue but the damage was done. Thank you for reminding me of why it matters so much.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Thanks for your comment, Lia. If there’s anything the many replies will hopefully show, it’s that we’re all guilty of the same thing. Sounds like you learned a valuable lesson, but hopefully you can also give yourself a bit of a break!

  12. Jose Avatar

    Love this, thanks for the article.

    My question is what do I do when my boss COMES to my desk and talks to me and distracts me. How do I politely say, ’Go away and let me work!’ without loosing face?

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

      Ah yes, the dreaded long-talking boss! This of course is very tricky territory. My thoughts, and thoughts I’ve gotten from others, is resorting to a few subtle tricks (assuming a direct talk is out of the question…which it often is with the big cheese) When you see your boss walk in or if the conversation goes on for a while, pick up a folder and say you need to make a copy, head to the bathroom, or ask a fellow employee a question about a project. Find a reason to remove yourself for a minute so he/she moves on. Keep folders on your chair so people can’t just sit down across and start gabbing. It’s not ideal and not direct, but can make life easier. You’d be amazed how many people resort to these kinds of tactics to keep things moving!

      1. josesjr2 Avatar

        Thank you for such a prompt response! I’m going to try that TODAY!
        Thanks so much 🙂 I’ll share how it goes with the Momentum community!

        1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar

          My pleasure! Best of luck – and please do let us know how it goes!

  13. […] Now, these lessons are different than the ones we covered in our recent discussion about when to interrupt people, which I covered in my blog How to Kill a Conversation. […]

  14. Mark Avatar

    I don’t like it when I get interrupted. It’s rude. It shows disrespect and lack of manners on the other person’s behalf. The only time to be interrupted is an emergency. Otherwise, everyone’s point is important.

    I’ve started to do the following when I get interrupted. Somebody jumps into the conversation I am having with a friend or co-worker, and they start driving the conversation somewhere else. I simply talk a little louder over their comment and continue or I simply say, “Excuse me, I got interrupted while trying to convey an important message, I am almost done,” or “One second, I am almost done” or if you know the interruptor say sarcastically, “Yes!!! you may say something after I’m done” or “Wait your turn buddy.”

    Tone of voice is extremely important too. Don’t just react and raise your voice in an aggressive manner. Take one breathe, when you get interrupted. You want to be relaxed when communicating to the interruptor… No expression of anger is allowed… Show respect regardless of their rudeness and stop them kindly… Take one second to think what you are going to convey to the interruptor… It takes time to change this behavior if you haven’t be used to not saying no to other people. Learn to say no in a calm, relaxed demeanor. Get in front of the mirror every night for 7 nights and say no calmly if you have too. That’s what I did and it got me more aware to be more assertive…

    It was hard for me to do this at the beginning. Just like other people have been conditioned to interrupt others, I had to condition mysekf to make it a habit of not letting others interrupt my message. It still slips once in a while but at least I am more aware of when getting interrupted.