Knowing how and when to say goodbye is often difficult, even in informal situations. But learning to say goodbye eloquently, tactfully, and appropriately is a skill that will help you maintain your relationships and let people know you care. It’s also easier than it seems sometimes. Read on to learn how to recognize opportunities and anticipate others’ needs when you leave.
Method 1 of 3: Saying Short-Term Goodbyes
Recognize when to leave. When you’re at any kind of party or gathering, or even a one-on-one conversation, it can be difficult to get away. Learning to recognize good opportunities to leave will make a short-term goodbye much easier.
- Notice if the crowd seems to be dwindling. If more than half the people have left, it might be a good time to leave. Find the host, or your friends, give a wave to the room, and leave. Try not to add too much emphasis to your leaving – this could make them feel as if you are desperate to get out.
- Leave when you want. If you know you won’t be able to stay until the end then you could perhaps speak to them beforehand or at the beginning of the party. You don’t need to wait for any special signal. If you’re ready to go home, or ready for the conversation to move along, say, “Well, I’ll be going. See you all later!”
Watch body language. Overstaying your welcome is rude, but it can often be difficult to distinguish. People don’t like telling you that they’d like you to leave, so try to watch for signals. This may be some other family members starting to pack up or the fact that there is hardly anyone left.
- If the host of a party starts cleaning up, or withdraws from the conversation, gather your friends or belongings and make your exit. It’s also time to leave if someone starts checking their watch or seems otherwise restless.
Make plans to see each other again. Even saying, “See you at school tomorrow,” or “Can’t wait to see you again at Christmas” keeps the goodbye light and focused forward. If you haven’t already made plans, use it as an opportunity to make them. Even saying, “See you soon” suggests just that.
- Set up a coffee date or meet for lunch later in the week if it makes the goodbye easier, but don’t commit to anything you don’t want to. It’s OK to just leave.
Tell the truth. It can be tempting to come up with a “good excuse” when you’re ready to leave. You don’t need to (lying could also make them feel hurt if they find out you didn’t mean it). If you want to leave, just say, “I’m going to go now, see you later.” It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. If you want to extract from a conversation you’re ready to end, “I’ll talk to you later,” is likewise plenty.
Method 2 of 3: Saying Long-Term Goodbyes
Plan an appropriate time to talk before the departure. If someone you know is leaving for several years to go overseas, or leaving for college, it can be a stressful and hectic time while they’re planning a trip. Set up a definitive time and place to meet and say goodbye. Likewise, prioritize your goodbyes if you’re the one doing the leaving. Don’t make plans with people you don’t really care about saying goodbye to and forget to see your sister.
- Choose an enjoyable location––maybe over dinner, or strolling your favorite neighborhood, or spending time together doing something both of you have always enjoyed, like watching a game.
Talk about the good times you’ve had. Recount your funniest stories, reminisce about happy things. Dig deep into your past: the things you’ve done together, the things that happened while you were friends, the time you have spent together, maybe even how you met.
- Don’t start the goodbye the second you get into the room. Gauge the person’s attitude about leaving, or about your leaving. If it’s a trip they’re not looking forward to, don’t spend the whole time asking them questions about their deployment. If they’re excited, don’t spend the whole time bumming them out by telling them how much everyone will miss them. If your friends are jealous of your job opportunity in France, don’t spend the whole time bragging about it.
Be open and friendly. It’s important to establish the standing of the relationship. If you want to keep in contact, let them know. Exchange email, phone, and address information.
- Asking for an e-mail address or phone number can be comforting, so that you can still talk with them, but also be honest. If you have no intentions of staying in touch, don’t ask for contact details. It can leave a departing friend wondering about your sincerity.
- Make sure your family members are all up to date with your location and status, and that you’re up to date about them before either one leaves. It’s important to not give anyone the impression that you’re withdrawing or disappearing.
When it’s time to leave, make it brief and sincere. Most people don’t enjoy a long, drawn-out goodbye, but make your goodbye personal. If you need to express complicated feelings, consider writing them in a letter for the person to read later. In person, keep things light and fun. Hug, say your piece, and wish them luck in their journey. Don’t overstay your welcome.
- If you’re leaving for a long time and can’t take everything with you, giving stuff away can be a nice gesture and solidify a relationship. Let your band buddy hang onto your old guitar while you’re gone, or give your sibling a meaningful book they’ll remember you by.
Follow up. Stay in touch if you’d made plans to stay in touch. Talk on Skype or write funny postcards. If you gradually lose touch with a friend or loved one you sincerely would like to hear from, make an extra effort. If it seems as if your friend as become too busy, try not to get too upset. Let things drift back together naturally.
- Keep your expectations for communication realistic. A friend going to college will make new friends and might not be able to keep up a weekly phone exchange.
Method 3 of 3: Saying Goodbye Forever
Say goodbye now. Putting off going to visit a loved one in the hospital is always a mistake, as is waiting until the last days before a friend leaves the country forever. Don’t miss out on your chance to say goodbye and brighten their final moments. Alone in the hospital can be a terrible place to die. Be in the room and say what needs to be said. Spend as much time with your loved one as possible. Be with him or her and support them.
- Often, the dying want and are very comforted by one of four very particular messages: “I love you,” “I forgive you,” “Please forgive me,” or “Thank you.” If any of these seem appropriate, take care to include them in your goodbye.
Do what feels appropriate. We often have the impression that death or other “forever” goodbyes are supposed to be a somber and joyless thing. But follow the lead of the person leaving. Your role is to be there for them and to comfort them in a time of need. If laughter is desired, or seems natural, then laugh.
Tell the truth, selectively. It can be hard to know how honest to be with the dying. If you’re visiting an ex-spouse or an estranged sibling, there can be lots of tension burbling under the surface, and complicated emotions at work in their passing. The hospital doesn’t seem like the best time to let loose and tell off your father for being absent.
- If you feel like the truth will hurt the person dying, recognize this and change the subject. Say, “You don’t need to worry about me today” and change the subject.
- It can be tempting to want to be overly optimistic, saying “No, there’s still a chance. Don’t give up” if a loved one says, “I’m dying.” There’s no need to dwell on something neither of you know for sure. Change the subject to, “How are you feeling today?” or reassure them by saying, “You look great today.”
Keep talking. Always speak gently and identify yourself as the person speaking. Even if you’re not sure you’re being heard, say what needs to be said. The goodbye process in death works both ways–make sure you don’t regret not saying “I love you” one last time. Even if you’re unsure if the person can hear you, say it, and you’ll know.
Be present. Both physically and emotionally, be in the room. It can be difficult to avoid becoming hyperaware of the significance of the moment: “Is that the last time he’ll say, ‘I love you’?” Every moment can feel tense and electric. But get out of your own way and try, as much as possible, to experience the moments for what they are: time with a loved one.
- Often, the dying have a great amount of control over the actual moment of their death and will wait until they’re alone to save their loved ones the pain of experiencing it. Likewise, many family members are committed to being there, “To the end.” Be aware of this and try not to put too much emphasis on the exact moment of death. Say goodbye when it seems appropriate.