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“Employees spend an average of 40% of their workday engaged in non-productive, inefficient communication.” (Source: Zipdo)


In a work setting, an unproductive conversation typically resembles talking in circles without a clear purpose or end goal.

It’s often those lengthy chit-chats that wander off track, focusing more on complaints rather than solutions or progress. If a discussion isn’t helping you or others add value to your job, moving work or projects forward, it’s likely an unproductive conversation, and needs to end.

In this article we look at ways to end unproductive conversations at work while preserving relationships and maintaining a positive work environment. 

Why is it Important to End Unproductive Conversations?

Ending unproductive conversations at work is important because it saves time and keeps everyone focused. Often meandering and lacking clear goals, these discussions can drain energy and distract from more important tasks.

Simply cutting short unproductive conversations at work is crucial as it saves time and keeps everyone focused. Plus, it helps maintain a positive and goal-oriented workplace atmosphere, which is key for everyone’s performance and job satisfaction. 

Five Typical Examples of Unproductive Workplace Conversations 

Gossip and Complaints

Gossiping about colleagues or endlessly complaining about workplace issues is unproductive. For example, a group chat focuses more on office politics than work-related matters. 

Circular Discussions

These are conversations that go in circles without concluding. Imagine a team meeting where the same problem is discussed repeatedly, but no decision is made. 

Off-Topic Tangents

When discussions veer off into unrelated subjects, they lose productivity. Picture a project planning session that gets sidetracked into a debate about unrelated office renovations. 

Rehashing Solved Issues

Bringing up and dwelling on issues that have already been resolved wastes time. An example is revisiting a completed project to discuss what could have been done differently without any constructive purpose. 

Over-Extended Small Talk

While some small talk is suitable for rapport building, excessively long casual conversations are a hindrance. Think of colleagues spending a large chunk of a meeting discussing weekend plans instead of the agenda.

Ending Unproductive Conversations Poses Challenges

Ending unproductive conversations is a nuanced task, and several factors contribute to its complexity: 

Navigating Politeness and Productivity:

  • The challenge lies in being polite while also prioritizing productivity.
  • Many hesitate to cut short a conversation due to concerns about seeming impolite or negatively impacting work relationships.

Recognizing Unproductivity:

  • Identifying when a conversation becomes unproductive is not always straightforward, especially if it begins with relevant work topics.
  • This recognition is crucial to prevent valuable time from being consumed by discussions that don’t contribute to work goals. 

Social Norms and Perception:

  • Maintaining social norms and the desire to be seen as friendly and cooperative can make it hard to steer a conversation back on track or to end it.
  • There’s a common concern about how one’s actions during such interactions are perceived by others, which can lead to reluctance to assertively end the conversation. 

Fear of Offending Others:

  • Concerns about offending coworkers or seeming disinterested can lead to prolonging a conversation unnecessarily.
  • This fear often overrides the need to return to productive work, leading to longer-than-needed discussions.


These factors illustrate why ending unproductive conversations requires a careful blend of assertiveness, tact, and awareness of social dynamics.

Tips on How to End Unproductive Workplace

Tips on How to End Unproductive Workplace Conversations 

The Passive Approach

To passively end an unproductive conversation at work is all about tactfulness and respect. You can use exit lines that smoothly indicate you need to wrap up, like mentioning a deadline or another meeting. For example, saying something like: 

“I’ve got to get back to work; I’m on a tight schedule.”

This signals you need to leave without being abrupt. Another approach is waiting for a natural lull in the conversation, then using phrases like: 

“Well, I should let you go,”


“I’ve got to catch up on a few things.”

This way, you’re politely signaling the end of the chat while maintaining good rapport. Remember, keeping it friendly and positive ensures you part ways on good terms. 

The Direct Approach

To directly end an unproductive conversation in the workplace, a clear but polite approach works best. You might say something like: 

“I need to focus on an upcoming deadline, so let’s talk another time.”

If it’s a group setting, suggest that the discussion continues at a later, more appropriate time or in a different format, like email. Always express appreciation for the chat, such as: 

“Thanks for this discussion, I’ll follow up with an email,” 

This helps to maintain a positive and professional tone. 

The Assertive Approach

To assertively end an unproductive conversation at work, stating your need to conclude the talk directly while remaining courteous is effective. Try saying: 

“I appreciate this conversation, but I must return to my current task now.” 

If it’s a group situation, suggest a different time to reconvene when everyone is more prepared or has more information. Always wrap up with a polite but firm line like: 

“Let’s pick this up later with more details,”

This ensures you end on a constructive note. 

The Quick Exit Approach

To quickly end an unproductive conversation tactfully requires a balance between directness and politeness. You can say: 

“I’m sorry to cut this short, but I have an urgent task to attend to.”

If it’s a meeting that’s dragging on, you might intervene with: 

“Can we table this discussion for our next meeting?”

Always conclude with a courteous note, like: 

“Thank you for understanding,”

This will maintain professionalism while swiftly moving on from the conversation. 

Always Exit Unproductive Conversations On A Positive Note

Exiting unproductive workplace conversations on a positive note is crucial for maintaining professional relationships. It shows respect for the other person’s time and perspective, even when the discussion isn’t yielding the desired results.

Tact and politeness help to prevent any negative feelings or misunderstandings that could affect future interactions. Further, ending on a positive note keeps the door open for more productive and collaborative discussions in the future. 

DOs & Don’ts When Ending Unproductive Conversations 

DOs When Ending Unproductive Conversations

  1. Do Express Appreciation: Thank the person for their time or insights, showing respect for their contribution.
  2. Do Be Clear and Direct: Politely state the need to conclude, such as mentioning a deadline or another commitment.
  3. Do Suggest Future Discussions: Propose a follow-up at a more appropriate time, maintaining the possibility of productive future interactions. 

DON’Ts When Ending Unproductive Conversations

  1. Don’t Be Rude or Dismissive: Avoid showing frustration or impatience, which can damage workplace relationships.
  2. Don’t Leave Ambiguously: Avoid vague endings that might confuse the other person about the conversation’s status.
  3. Don’t Ignore Non-Verbal Cues: Pay attention to body language and tone, ensuring your exit doesn’t seem abrupt or uncaring.


Ending unproductive conversations at work is essential for maintaining a positive and harmonious workplace.

Whether you choose a passive, direct, assertive, or quick approach, the key is to be respectful and transparent while ensuring the conversation ends on a positive note.

These practices save time and maintain focus, preserving professional relationships and setting the stage for more constructive interactions in the future.

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