Why You Must Let People Check Out From Conversations

Sometimes in a conversation, especially a sensitive or heated one, you can tell you’ve hit a brick wall. When you recognize that, it is essential that you allow your conversational partner to check out of the conversation. If you don’t, it’s virtually guaranteed that something far worse than a lack of closure will be the outcome.

There are a lots of reasons that people check out. They may have an urgent appointment. They may be too distracted to continue. They may be unsure what more to tell you. They may be quite worked up and angry. But in all cases, they’re checking out because they find themselves unable to proceed productively in the conversation you’re currently trying to have with them.

A conversation requires two people to be committed to productively accomplishing its goals. It’s simply not possible to have a conversation from only one side, and when you try you’ll probably get frustrated. And what’s worse is that if you try, you’re likely to only make your partner frustrated too.

When two people are frustrated in a conversation the likelihood of a productive outcome drops nearly to zero. Maybe it’ll just drag on interminably. In my experience, a more likely outcome is a shouting match, or (depending on tempers) physical blows. Maybe it just literally goes quiet. Whatever the outcome, productive results aren’t likely. And causing hard-to-repair damages (that makes future conversations more fraught) are.

When you notice a partner in a conversation — especially in a conversation you recognize could be charged for someone — closes down, let them go. Let them leave the conversation, and gracefully let the subject drop. Almost no conversational line you’re likely pursuing is worth risking any long-term harm to the relationship. Sometimes I’m sure it feels like it is, but I tell you from experience, it isn’t. In the cold clear light of day, once your temper has settled and you’re thinking clearly, I’m guessing you’ll agree.

It can feel weak, or frustrating, to not get the closure you want from a conversation. But you simply must allow people to check out of difficult conversations. If you value the long-term health and stability of the relationship, it truly is the best way. There’s not much room to debate it — your partner’s checked out whether you’re ready to accept it or not.