When you’re chatting with a customer or client, how long should you talk? Five minutes? Ten? Twenty?

My mom always says that you should leave while the other person still wants you to stay (rather than waiting until the person is sick and tired of you). But I think that’s very difficult to judge! And apparently, I’m not the only one who has trouble determining how long a conversation should last.

According to a recent study by Adam Mastroianni and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, most people are pretty bad at determining when other people are ready to end a conversation. And as a result, conversations tend to drag on longer than anyone wants them to. Simply put, people have a hard time knowing when to stop talking.

But there is something that can do to get a little better at judging when a conversation should end. The secret is to listen for verbal cues and to keep a close eye on the other person’s body language.

You’ll know when the person you’re talking to wants to end the conversation if he or she exhibits one or more of the following signs:

  • Giving short “yes or no” answers to questions
  • Taking long pauses before answering questions
  • Acting distracted (looking around, not making eye contact, glancing at his or her watch)
  • Standing up or (if already standing) angling his or her body away from you
  • Pointing his or her feet away from you
  • Summarizing what you’ve been talking about (a.k.a. wrapping things up)
  • Getting fidgety
  • Talking about all of the other things that he or she needs to be doing

In contrast, it’s likely that a person wants to continue talking to you if he or she exhibits one or more of these signs:

  • Acting relaxed (no fidgeting)
  • Leaning towards you
  • Making eye contact
  • Listening to what you’re saying and asking follow-up questions
  • Giving detailed responses to your questions

Good luck with your small talk! And remember to watch for the signs!


Thibodeaux, W. (2018, December 5). Want to be a master conversationalist? Harvard research says you need to fix this first. Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.inc.com/wanda-thibodeaux/want-to-be-a-master-conversationalist-harvard-research-says-you-have-to-fix-this-first.html