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How to Let Someone Know When It’s Time to Go

Polite and Rude Ways to End a Conversation
Suitable for Posting at Your Office

  • Have you ever had someone come into your office or home that just did not pick up on the fact that the conversation was over?
  • Have you ever been stuck in a long conversation during a meeting, party, dinner or network event?
  • Have you ever wished to give non-stop talkers a list of cues to look for so they knew it was time to go?

Here is the list of both gracious and impolite ways
for you to end a conversation.

What can you do to politely signal you want to end the conversation? Research by Knapp, Hart and Fredric identified the following polite forms of nonverbal body language leave-taking cues and their accompanying messages:

  • Pointing your legs and feet away from the person and toward the door (“I’m out of here.”)
  • A quick forward lean (“I got it, let me go.”)
  • Breaking eye contact, perhaps by turning away, blinking or bringing the eye closed a beat too long (“I am through taking in information.”)
  • Nodding the head a bit too quickly (“Got it! I understand, now let me go.”)

What shouldn’t you do? The impolite ways to say farewell that read more like, “Leave, buddy, or I am kicking you out!”

  • Leveraging − that is, placing the hands on the knees or legs as if you are ready to push up and move out of the chair any second.
  • Major lower torso movements − this includes below-the-waist movements such as shifting in your chair, straightening up or standing, adjusting your clothing or touching your belt.
  • Explosive hand movements to some part of your body – this is hitting your thigh in exasperation because you would like to whomp the other person upside the head for not recognizing it is time for them to leave. Touching, holding or playing with “artifacts.” Artifacts is the scientific term for your stuff that you came with, including a coffee cup, purse, paperwork, phones, etc.
  • Taking a call, emailing or texting, unless there is an EMT or ill loved one on the line.
  • Turning your heart towards your computer screen and putting your hands on your computer keys. (I see people turn to their computer when someone comes into their office in order to signal to the visitor, “I do not have time to talk. I have 495 million emails to respond to.”)
  • Continuing to listen but standing up and shaking hands, or turning and walking away while the other person is still talking. Now, that is hardly subtle!

The funny thing is that we do these cut-off behaviors all the time and are unaware of how they make people feel and how it makes us look to others.
Oddly, research shows if you try to cut off a conversation too soon and don’t give adequate listening cues it actually makes speakers repeat themselves and stay longer in order to feel heard and understood.

Have Fun with Your Goodbyes

  • Do you notice that people walk away from you without verbally closing the conversation with a little courteous message such as, “Thanks, see you later” or “That was helpful; bye!” or just simply “Goodbye” or “See you later.”
  • Notice today how you end face-to-face conversations and how you leave a room. Even notice how you end a conversation with the barista making your coffee at Starbucks. How kind is your body language?
  • Take note of the power of your goodbye.


(If you want to be a helpful and supportive listener, read my quick tips to GENTLER powerful listening.