How Not to Be an A-hole When…

…You Realize You’ve Slighted a Friend

Sometimes when I am hanging out with a friend, I will run into another friend who I find more interesting and start talking to that person and realize that I have totally mentally checked out from the person that I was originally hanging out with. I realize I shouldn’t do that but, if I do, what should I do to try to fix the situation.

[Note: I have it on good authority that this question comes from a younger reader]

I’ve been you. I’m at a party and find myself chatting with a perfectly lovely person, but then someone I would rather talk to shows up. Maybe I haven’t seen him in a while, or maybe we have something important to discuss, and I’m not sure how to get out of the current conversation. Sometimes I just continue on, not really invested in the discussion; other times I abruptly leave without realizing I’m doing it. Every once in awhile, the new person joins the conversation and we immediately start talking about something irrelevant to the person I was originally talking to.

I’ve also been the person who gets dropped. The most recent time I can recall is at a forced networking event at a big conference. I hate those situations, and I felt such relief when I finally found someone I knew. We started talking, and then mid-sentence she smiled and walked off to talk to another person – probably a more well-known member of our community. It stung, and multiplied the awkwardness I was already feeling about being in that situation.

My point is, I think most of us can relate to you AND to the person you unintentionally leave mid-conversation. No one likes to feel like they aren’t interesting, and most people don’t enjoy making someone else feel bad. So, what do you?

When you first realize what you’ve done, simply apologize. Be honest but kind – there’s no need to say “I’m sorry Bob, but Janet came up and she’s more interesting than you are.” Instead, say “I’m sorry Bob. I had something I’ve wanted to tell Janet and when I saw her I jumped at the chance. That was rude of me.”

If you literally cut them off mid-sentence, or left them all alone at an event while you rushed over to another person to talk, they might not want to accept your apology right away. Or they’ll say “oh it’s fine,” but seem a little withdrawn for a bit. That’s okay. I appreciate your desire to fix the situation; part of that is understanding that sometimes the person who was hurt (even if it was unintentionally) may need a little time and space before things get back to normal between you two.

In the future, when someone else shows up that you’d like to talk to, take the extra few minutes to find a time where you can end the conversation kindly and move onto another one. I like “It was nice to catch up – enjoy the rest of the party!” You’ve closed the conversation down naturally, and now you are both free to move onto the next person you want to chat with. Or, if the new person joins your conversation, work her into it until you can find a way to wrap things up, and then say something along the lines of “Bob, it’s been great talking to you, but I’ve got to pull Janet away for a minute to get her thoughts on something. I’ll catch up with you later!”

If you find yourself mentally checking out often when talking to a specific friend, I’d encourage you to think about whether it is an active friendship you want to maintain. We also all deserve friendships that are meaningful, and with people who are genuinely interested in us.That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work at building friendships with people who you don’t hit it off with right away, or that you have to be 100% invested in every single conversation you have at every moment, but you should know that you don’t have to be friends with every person you know, or stay friends with every person forever.

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