In the movie, The Last Samurai, an American military officer, Captain Algren, has been captured by a group of Samurai warriors in rural Japan, lead by the famed Katsumoto. Algren is an angry, embittered drunk who is slow to adjust to the graceful style and pace of Japanese culture. In more than one interaction, Algren attempted to push Katsumoto into revealing far more about himself and his plans than the Japanese leader was prepared to do. Rather than argue with Algren, Katsumoto replied simply and with utter calm, “This has been a good conversation,” and then returned to what he had been doing. He made it clear—politely but with no vacillation—that his pronouncement was a termination of the conversation, despite Algren’s wishes to the contrary.
How many of our interactions with others would benefit from such a firm but polite declaration that the conversation is over. When people speak, especially if they ask a question, we feel obligated—to the point of being held hostage—to answer them, to continue the conversation. But we do NOT have to answer or continue. We’re afraid of their disapproval if we don’t participate. But if we have enough love in our lives, we don’t fear the absence of love—often in the form of disapproval—from a particular person, because they can’t take from us the love we do have.
If you’re in a conversation where you become uncomfortable for any reason—and at any point—you can remember that you’re loved and gracefully say, for example:
- “I’ve enjoyed this conversation, and now I need to go.”
(Notice the absence of the word “but” and no explanation of where you’re going.)
- “Thank you for talking to me. I need some time to digest this, so we’ll finish at a later time.
(You could offer a specific time later or not. Do NOT explain why you need time to digest “this.”)
- “You have given me something to think about. Thanks for that. We’ll finish this conversation later.”
(Again, “later” can be nailed down or not.)
I have learned from uncounted thousands of people that we all hate being trapped in a conversation that is uncomfortable, or about to become uncomfortable, or about to fall into a pit of disaster. We are not trapped. We do not have to keep talking when we don’t want to. It’s much easier—and almost invariably more productive when we realize that “this has been a good conversation” and end it at that point.
When we do that, people will usually feel a compulsion to continue the conversation. Don’t do it. Don’t be a hostage. And don’t explain why. Simply repeat what you originally said, i.e., “I’ve enjoyed this conversation, and now I need to go.” Then turn and leave. You do not need to endure the intolerable feeling of being trapped.
Replace your anger and confusion with peace and happiness.
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