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Modern Manners + Etiquette: Ending Conversations Gracefully + More

Thursday, May 10, 2012


You need to move on with your day, but they still want to chat? How to disengage, engagingly.

Tricky etiquette questions about how to end a conversation socially and at work are on the rise at NewportManners.com. Along with what gift to give the graduate and what to wear when you're the honoree -- at your seventieth birthday? Trickiest of all, how does one cancel a wedding when the invitations are in the mail?

Dear Didi,
I've been invited to a graduation party for two sisters—one graduating from college and one graduating from high school. I work with their mother but have never met the two girls. Any suggestions for graduation gifts?  E.S., Chicago

Dear E.S.,
You probably want to give the two sisters the same gift. The best present for any student is a gift card at a bookstore in the area where they live. Not only can they buy books but CDs, notebooks, and journals. By giving them both bookstore gift cards you are sending the message that you value intelligence. Even though one sister is graduating from college, she can still continue learning.  ~Didi

Dear Didi,
I am black and 6' 3" tall. My children will hold a 70th birthday party for me in August. I want to wear a cream-colored suit for the occasion. What should be the matching colors for the shirt and the tie? I shall welcome other suggestions.  L.A., Atlanta

Dear L.A.,
With a cream-colored suit, wear a solid light blue collared shirt, or a vertical striped shirt, with a linen tie. It may be too hot in August to wear a silk tie. With a solid light blue shirt, the linen tie can be striped or a solid color such as a lighter or darker blue, a yellow or green. There will probably be lots of photographs, so don't wear a tie with a small print because prints tend to blur out and don't show as well as a solid or striped tie. Happy Birthday!  ~Didi

Dear Didi,
Our daughter just called off her wedding. The wedding invitations were mailed May 1st. The wedding had been scheduled for Saturday, June 16th. What exactly do we do and say?  Anonymous, Barrington

Dear Anonymous,
Life happens, guests will understand that the wedding is canceled because the engagement has been broken off. Send out a simple card to announce the cancellation of the wedding. Traditionally, you would use a 5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inch white or cream-colored card with these lines centered with your own information:

Mr. and Mrs. John Smith Winslow
announce that the marriage of their daughter
Caroline to Mr. Edward Rosenthal,
which was arranged for Saturday 16 June 2012,
will now not take place

It goes without saying that the sooner these cards are mailed, the less work your daughter will have returning wedding presents. Any wedding gifts she has already received should be sent back to the store from which they were purchased along with a note and the receipt asking that the gift be credited to the cardholder. In the meantime, telephone the stores where your daughter is registered to have her list taken down and then be sure to cancel and credit any pending deliveries.

In conversation—and this might be the toughest part—it is best to say that Caroline and Edward mutually agreed to cancel the wedding. At this point, there is no need for further explanation. The reason is none of anyone's business. The important point to make is that they mutually agreed about the cancellation.  ~Didi


Dear Didi,
I find it increasingly harder to end a phone call politely. Or, for that matter, a one-on-one conversation in the corridor at work or at a social gathering. What are suggestions for ending the conversation politely? J.C., Providence

Dear J.C.,
Telephone calls can be problematic mainly because the polite etiquette is, that the person who makes the call ends the call. How do you encourage the caller to say goodbye first? Some suggestions: At a certain point, say, "We'll talk more at lunch May 20th." Or, "It's been good talking to you, thank you for calling." If that doesn't work, say, "Sorry, I've got to jump on a conference call in three minutes." You hope that by then they'll get the idea and answer, "Well, I'll let you go."

When it's a pragmatic question about business, such as someone merely confirming an appointment, say, "Thank you for calling. Goodbye."

Whether face to face in an office corridor or at a social gathering such as a cocktail party, you can perform a "walk around." As you start to walk away, the other person turns in the direction in which you're walking and continues talking to you. So you literally have to circle around them to get away. That may make them realize that you're really moving onward.

The best excuse to use to get away, or get off the phone, is to remark that it is a very busy time for you just now—in other words, this is not a good moment for extended conversation. In business one would say (while checking your smartphone for the time), "I've got to take a call shortly" or, "I'm running late to another appointment." At a social gathering when saying goodbye to the host, simply say, "I'm sorry we have to leave, because it was such a lovely party." Then add something you liked about the evening—the music, the canapes, the view—and then go.

Breaking away from a phone conversation is certainly less stressful than excusing oneself in person. It is much easier to lie to a person who can't read your body language and realize that you really don't have to "jump onto a conference call in three minutes." The looking at the watch trick has been replaced by the checking of the smartphone, which also has the time and info as to whether or not "there is a call that I have to make." ~Didi

Didi Lorillard follows shifting manners and etiquette at NewportManners.com and hopes to be able to answer your questions that you ask in the comments space, below. Follow Didi on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest.



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