We've all been there before: a distant relative grabs your arm to talk at you about his new garbage disposal or you're stuck as wing man with a girl who only knows how to talk about her text conversations of people you don't know. You can't just walk away from these people and you sure as hell can't tell them what you really think of their mother's texts about her DVR. So what do you do? You feign interest. You pretend to enjoy a conversation until you find a polite and believable way to get out of it.
Of course, most conversations can be interesting and typically rather enlightening. However, for the few discussions you get caught in about Aunt Miriam's potentially haunted linen closet, this is a great way to be respectful and not offend the person you're talking to. Here's a few easy steps to look like quite the gentlemen.
Smile and Keep Eye Contact:
First off, feigning a conversation is not a way to completely ignore someone while they talk your ear off. You need to listen and be polite. It doesn't mean you have to care about what they're saying but they obviously respect you enough to confide in you, so listen. The best way to do that is by keeping eye contact at all times. A small smile will hint that you're listening and enjoying the conversation. Just remember, if the conversation turns too serious to lose the smile, it can come off tacky.
Although you're in this conversation, it does not mean you should encourage it. Try to only respond when either asked a question or to affirm that you are listening. Simple phrases like, "is that so?" and "you don't say?" are easy affirmations that won't spark new reasons to continue the conversation. Remember, the more questions you ask, the more apt the person will be to discuss more topics with you. Keep your responses short but pleasant. Always sound intrigued yet hold off to never sound so interested that the person thinks they need to continue talking.
Quite possibly the hardest part of feigning a conversation is reacting to a bad joke. As most awful conversations are laden with terrible jokes and puns, you'll have to react quickly as to not offend the conversation partner. To come off as genuine as possible without forcing fake laughter, I use the "That's Funny" technique. Once a joke is delivered, I smile brightly, nod, and say, "that's funny," to affirm their humor. It's not lying. The joke was funny. Funny sad. Funny Embarrassing. Just not Funny Ha Ha.
Question to Exit:
It's hard to find the best time to exit a terrible conversation. If it were up to you it would be the moment you entered into it. But you're a polite, respectful man so you need a better way of stepping out without offending the other person. A great exit strategy is the Question Exit. That is, you ask the person you're with to point to somewhere you may need to go. For example, "Can you point me to the bathroom?" Notice how you don't ask them to walk with you there. If it truly is a bad conversation, you'll have time to think of a perfect question, but some of the better ones include: Can you point me to the bar?, Do you know where the appetizers are?, Where can you get your parking validated, (and my favorite), Is there a roof? If the person does not have an answer simply respond with, "I'm going to find out," and make the perfect exit.
Once you've asked a question that will help lead you out of a conversation, be polite, excuse yourself, and if it's your first time meeting someone shake their hand and repeat their name. The impression they made on you might not have been lasting but that doesn't mean they can't find you to be a fine gentleman.
One of the top qualities of a gentleman is patience. Exactly for instances like these must a gentleman have the upmost patience to wait, listen, smile, and politely exit when the time is right. Don't lose the respect of friends and the people around you. Stay friendly and never act rude for the sake of yourself.