How to Gracefully Change the Subject When Talking to Your Friend

Changing the Conversation to Something More Pleasant

Friends talking and enjoying cocktails at bar
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Talking with a friend should be a positive, happy experience. Ideally, friends should be able to talk about anything, but when a conversation is no longer comfortable, it's time to change it. Keeping a conversation positive can help avoid unnecessary conflicts and also help new friendships stay afloat. The key to getting out of a conversational jam is to change the subject gracefully.

Be a Master at Small Talk

You can't change the subject if you don't know what to change it to.

Being a master at small talk means that you'll always have another subject ready to go that you can bring up without stammering and causing attention to yourself. (After all, we're talking about changing the subject gracefully and not just blurting out something like, "Let's talk about something else already!")

You can easily do a quick switch in the direction of the conversation but saying something like, "Oh, I just had to interrupt and tell you this..." and then talk about whatever it is you saw or read that would make for good small talk. Small talk in this case is used as a bridge for the next topic discussion. When you bring up a small talk subject, someone else will pick up on it and add their thoughts, and the conversation can go from there.

Pretend As If That Part of the Conversation Is Over

You can bring up a new topic cold, as well, without using a bridge like small talk. Just say something like, "I've been meaning to tell you" and launch an entirely new subject.

It doesn't matter if you were done with the old subject or if the new subject is related. (Here are some questions you can ask that will instantly change the course of conversation.)

This is a good tactic to use with someone who is easily distracted in conversation. Within moments they'll forget they asked you anything.

Comment on Something You See In Your Surroundings

If you're stumped for how to change a subject, take a look at your surroundings for inspiration. For example, at the mall, comment on the people you see walking through the stores. Or at someone's house, ask about a trinket or picture.

This change is more abrupt than other methods but still allows someone to transition to a new topic without awkwardness.

Get Another Person Involved in the Conversation

You might not be the only one that wants the conversation to change. If you get the impression that someone else in the group would like a different subject, ask them about a new topic in front of everyone. Pick something positive that they'll be happy to chat about, like:

  • "Bob, tell us about that new baby you have at home."
  • "Sally, can you tell that story again about your job interview?"
  • "Eric, how have things been with you? Tell us what's been going on in your life."

Turning the focus to others in the group will not only let the person who was causing tension that you didn't appreciate the things they were saying, it allows the others around you to feel involved and not ignored. 

Turn the Subject to Your Friend

This is an especially good tactic if your friend is asking you something you're not comfortable with.

Some friends pepper us with nosy questions, so if you simply say, "I'm curious what you think" or "What are your thoughts on it?" they'll probably forget that they asked you and start talking from their own point of view instead.

This isn't a good tactic to use with a bossy friend, however. If your friend lacks the self-awareness to know they are being invasive with their questions, they won't get that you're trying to change the subject, either.

When Your Friend Keeps Going Back to the Same Old Subject Again and Again

When you've tried to change the subject gracefully without success, it's time to be more direct. This happens when your friend is stuck on one particular subject (or even an old argument) and can't seem to move beyond it no matter what you do. In this case, you've tried to be as graceful as you can, and now you need to be polite but direct.

Say: "You know what? I'd rather than not talk about it. But I do want to talk about..." and then fill in with some of the tactics listed above, like asking about their life, a news item, or just suggesting a topic yourself.