• Mon, Feb 28 2011

The Art of the Subject Change

It’s a social scenario we’ve all encountered. You find yourself talking about something you don’t want to be talking about, and suddenly, you need an out. There’s no good way to escape the conversation or to get away from the person you’re talking to. You need a subject change, and you need it immediately.

But how to go about it? Changing the subject gracefully in a conversation is a delicate business. Why, I didn’t even know that it could be done consciously and deliberately until about ten years ago (I was 12). Here are a few tips for getting away from an uncomfortable topic without sacrificing your rank in society.

Be deliberate. You will know in your gut when it’s time to change the subject. Maybe you’ve accidentally brought up a break-up that you didn’t know happened, or asked about a job from which someone has been fired. Or maybe, someone is asking impolite and probing questions about your personal life. Whatever the case, you have to decide in a split second that you are going to steer the conversation elsewhere, and then you have to take the necessary steps to do so. In other words, a subject change is a completely conscious decision.

Don’t worry about whether your segue into another subject makes sense. When you or your conversation partner has stepped into conversational dogshit, you both want to get away from it as soon as possible. That means your partner will happily latch, like a baby to a teat, onto any other topic that you bring up. Let’s say the person with whom you’re sharing pleasantries asked about your pregnancy, but you’ve recently miscarried. You tell her the bad news, and then you find yourself in the midst of an incredible uncomfortable silence. You can say something as off-topic as, “So I hear you were in Palm Springs last week!” She will be so relieved that you let her off the hook, she will dive headfirst in to that topic with absolute gusto. And you will look like the social superstar that you are.

Commit. Even in the unlikely event that the person you’re talking to balks a bit at your subject change, you have gone there and you have to stay there. You ask about Palm Springs and she replies, “What?” You must press forward: “Yes, Palm Springs. Weren’t you and Danny there last weekend?” Once you’ve changed the subject, it’s as if the offending topic was never brought up at all. Don’t waver, don’t try a new subject, and don’t apologize. You’ve made your move. Now you have to stand behind it.

Don’t call more attention to the change. Once you’ve successfully changed the subject, all you need to do is give yourself a knowing little smirk on the inside, and carry on with the conversation as if nothing happened. A completed subject change is an advanced social skill, and you have now demonstrated mastery of it. Mazel tov. Now have a tasteful amount of alcohol to celebrate.

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  • porkchop

    Thank you! I am the queen of poor segues. People are like, “wait, what does that have to do with anything?” and I’m like “THIS IS A BETTER TOPIC JUST GO WITH IT.”