How to Tell Someone You Need to Get Off the Phone Without Sounding Like An Asshole

I’ve been on the phone with my grandma for eight hours, please help me

I love my grandma. I really do. But my God, once she gets you on the phone, you might as well cancel any plans you had for the next few weeks. So, over the past few hours of her talking at me on speaker phone — which, still going strong — I reached out to a couple of experts and asked them to help me close out this phone call without coming off as a complete asshole, disappointing my poor grandma even more than I already have. Here were their recommendations…

Set Some Boundaries From the Get-Go

Admittedly, my opportunity to take this approach has long passed, but hey, it might help you out. “If the other party is someone who you’re familiar with, and you know they’re long-winded, at the beginning of the call, I’d say, ‘Thanks for calling, I just have a few minutes right now, but I’d be happy to speak to you,’” psychologist Michael Edelstein, co-author of Three Minute Therapy, explains. “Alert them to be ready for your relatively abrupt ending.” If, when that time comes, they still refuse to let you go… 

Just Be Honest

Edelstein says, “One of the ways I do it, which seems polite and effective to me, is saying something — assuming the following has a grain of truth in it — like, ‘I love speaking with you. I’d like to speak more. Unfortunately, I don’t have any more time right now.’”

Now, if the topic at hand is sensitive and this approach feels a little too crass, you can change up the wording a little bit. “Suppose you’re talking to someone who’s in pain and pouring their heart out in a long-winded fashion,” Edelstein says. “Again, assuming the following has a grain of truth in it, say, ‘I’d love to speak with you about this further, but now’s not a good time. Let’s find a mutually convenient time.’ This, of course, is assuming you do want to speak with them more, and lend them your shoulder or ear.” To make the most of this strategy… 

Pick the Right Moment

“When I feel like the call is getting dragged out, I start listening very, very, very, very, carefully,” says Bobby Dolan, a customer service representative. “If I hear anything where I can make a connection, I jump in and cut them off, then politely say something like, ‘Thanks again for calling, [name]. Unfortunately, I’m getting called into a meeting, but yeah, if you need anything from me in the future, you have my number. Call me any time.’”

“So,” Dolan continues, “if they’re off-topic and say something like, ‘I spend most of my summers in Orlando,’ boom: I’ll jump in and be like, ‘Oh, nice. I’ve been to Disney World like nine times. Hey Mike, my bad, but I’m getting called into a meeting right now and have to go. If you ever need anything, give me a call. Nice talking with you today.’ Outside of work, I might say, ‘Mom’s on the other line.’ The key is to put the blame on someone else, because then it’s like, ‘Hey man, I’m digging this convo. Other people are pulling me away from it.’ It’s a veteran move.” And if all else fails… 

Hang the Fuck Up

This is the nuclear option obviously, but sometimes it needs to be done. “If it’s outside of work, I’ll just hang up,” Dolan says. “Then, I text them something like, ‘Shit man, bad service.’ But if they call back, we have problems — then you just have to ride it out. One of my best friends is like that, so I’ve had a lot of practice.”

Welp, sorry, grandma.