We’ve all been on a phone call that never seems to end. So, how do you end the conversation in a respectful manner? It’s important to maintain good lines of communication between friends, family members, and business contacts. Ending phone calls politely is an important part of developing these relationships.
Winding Down the Conversation
Focus the conversation.
When you are near the end of your phone call, be sure that you are not inviting the other person to continue talking. For instance, you might be really interested in something they just told you, but asking a question in response invites the other person to continue talking.
- For example, your mom might have just told you some juicy gossip. Instead of asking an open-ended question (such as, “How did you hear about that?!), make a statement (e.g., “Well, you can’t believe everything you hear.”). A statement works to close that conversation so that you can move on to other topics that you need to discuss or shift the conversation to a close.
- If you are on a business call and need to redirect the conversation, respond to what the other person has said with a statement and an indication that what they have just said is also important to you. Then immediately introduce the topic you need to address. For instance, you could say, “Thank you for alerting me to the issue with payroll. I will address that with our office manager as soon as I get off the phone, but I did want to discuss the progress on the quarterly report.”
Wait for a lull.
All conversations have pauses. Wait for the speaker to pause, and explain that you need to get off the phone.
- Do not pause when you are taking advantage of the lull. Otherwise, the person on the other end of the phone might begin telling you a new story. In this case, tell the person that you have enjoyed talking with them, that you will call again soon, and goodbye immediately one after the other. Do not prolong the goodbye.
Although we typically see interruption as a rude behavior, you can interrupt someone politely!
- Interrupt when it is your only possibility, and always apologize for doing so. You could, for instance, interrupt when a pressing task or emergency arises while you are on the phone. Alternately, you can interrupt when you have a specific time limit that you have already clarified.
- Maybe you are on a business call, but someone has just come into your office or you have a scheduled meeting. Let the person on the other end of the call know your situation and tell them when you will call again to finish your discussion.
- If you have an emergency, explain it briefly: “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but my dog just threw up. I need to check on him.”
- If you need to stick to your already specified time limit, remind them of your constraints: “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but my break is over now and I need to get back to work. Take care”
- If it’s a social call, you can simply say something more generic: “Oh, I look forward to speaking with you again. Please give someone my regards.”
- If it’s a professional call, try finishing it with: “I look forward to speaking with you again and wish you a wonderful day.”
Give a time warning.
Letting the other person know your time limit will help you avoid an awkward or rude goodbye. Tell the other person when you have five or ten minutes left to talk. If they need to ask you a specific question or tell you something important, a time warning will remind them to focus their end of the conversation.
- Alternately, a time warning can be a way for you to transition into a last question or topic. After the other person has responded, thank them for their time and end the conversation.
- For business calls, a time warning can help you redirect the conversation and prioritize what you need to discuss with the other person. You can say, for instance, “I only have five more minutes before my next meeting, but I wanted to ask if you are on track with the quarterly report.” Once the other person responds, you can thank them and tell them that you are looking forward to reviewing the report soon.
If you needed to end the conversation abruptly, be sure to say you are sorry. Explain that you wish you could keep talking, but that you need to address the emergency situation that occurred while on the phone.
Affirm your enjoyment.
Be sure to tell the other person that you had a nice time catching up and that you appreciate them taking the time to talk to you. In this way, you are reinforcing that they are important to you.
Plan to talk again.
If you are talking to a close friend or family member, setting aside a time to talk in the near future will help you end the conversation more quickly. The other person will know they can tell you the other things they wanted to say soon and won’t feel that they need to extend the conversation by telling you everything all at once.
- Asking the other person when a good time to call again is might lead to a prolonged phone call. Instead, tell them you will text or email to see when they are available to chat next week.
- Alternately, if you don’t know when you can talk again, suggest a vague time frame. Say, for example, “I’ll call again later this week or over the weekend.”
- If the person is someone you don’t talk to on a regular basis, say something like: “We should do this again soon!” By doing so, you suggest that you’d like to keep in touch, but you don’t limit yourself to a particular timeline.
Suggest an alternate way to communicate.
If you don’t like to talk on the phone, mention that you would like to Skype, text, or email to stay in contact.
- For business contacts that tend to be longwinded, you might tell the other person that you are able to respond more quickly by email rather than by phone. The other person may be more likely to email if they are responding to an email you have sent, rather than initiating the first email in the thread. Email them a follow up to your phone conversation later that same day, and encourage them to respond via email.
- Sometimes, personal phone conversations are prolonged because the other person feels that they need to fill you in on everything that has been going on since you last talked. If you keep in contact through social media (such as facebook), text messages, or emails, they will feel less pressured to spend a long time on the phone catching up.
- Tell the other person that you will text or email pictures of something you told them about on the phone. You will be prolonging communication, but doing so in your own timeframe. Texting or emailing as a follow up to the conversation can also open a new method of communication.
Planning Your Call
Call between activities.
If you know the person you want to call is usually very talkative, call between scheduled appointments, meetings, or activities. You can say that you only have ten minutes to talk, but really wanted to call while you could. Tell your friend or family member your time constraints at the beginning of the conversation so that they know your situation.
- Often, talkative people want to tell you “one more thing” when you are trying to finish your conversation. By telling your conversation partner that you have only a few minutes to chat, this will help them prioritize the most important things they want to tell you.
Be conscious of their schedule.
Consider your friend or family member’s regular routine. If you know they eat at a certain time and won’t have an unlimited amount of gab time, call then. You can, for instance, call on their lunch break or before they usually eat dinner. That way, the pressure to end the conversation is on the other person (not you).
- Show consideration for the other person’s schedule. When you call, say something like: “I know you are on your lunch break. I just wanted to call and chat for a few if you have time.”
Return their call.
If they call you, and you don’t have time to talk on the phone for an hour or so, don’t answer. Be sure, though, to call them back the same day so that they don’t think you are avoiding them.
- Be honest and explain why you weren’t able to answer their call. Maybe you were in the middle of working on a project, at the gym, or finishing homework, et cetera. Tell them you are sorry you missed their call.
- Call when you do have ample time to chat so that your friend or family member does not think you are being dismissive. You want to affirm that you respect and care about what they have to tell you. By not answering the original call and calling them back, you indicate that you now have time to give them your full attention.
- If you know you don’t have time later that day either, answer the original call. First, ask them what is going on; they might have an emergency or some important news they need to share. If they called instead to chat, simply tell the caller what you are doing and that you have a busy day ahead. Ask if you can call them back later in the week when you have more time.
Make a list.
If you are calling a talkative person for a specific reason, jot down what you need to tell them or ask them before you call. This will help you keep the conversation on track.
- Jotting down a list of topics you want to discuss will remind you what you wanted to tell the other person if your conversation gets sidetracked. If you can, try to shift the conversation back to one of the topics on your list by connecting it to what the other person has told you: “Oh, that reminds me! I really wanted to tell you about what happened yesterday!”
- It’s best to always be honest. If you make the same excuses all the time, the other person will feel that you don’t value them or may even think they have done something to offend you.
- Be very polite and assertive. If they ignore your request and continue to talk, you may need to repeat your need to end the phone call.
- Be sensitive to other people’s needs. Maybe spending a little extra time on the phone with someone who needs to talk is more important that whatever you think you need to do.
- Do not use ridiculous excuses (such as, “I have to go eat my pie now,” or “Sorry, I have to go wash my hair”). This will irritate and anger the person you are talking to.