Avoiding the awkward goodbye

I’m taking Spanish lessons for the umpteenth time, trying to get to the place where I can carry on a conversation with a Spanish speaking person. My lovely instructor, Paola with Una Buena Spanish, is helping me with my quest to speak español.

Paola encourages her students to speak as much Spanish as possible. After each lesson I say the few things I know to say goodbye in Spanish – “adios,” “hasta luego” or “hasta miercoles” (see you Wednesday). And then I struggle with what else to say because my vocabulary is limited. It feels like I should say something more to fill the space. I shared with Paola that I always feel awkward saying goodbye to her. She admitted sometimes she feels the same way when saying goodbye in English.

After mulling it over for a bit I realized why it feels uncomfortable. Typically when we say goodbye to someone we say more than just “goodbye.” Often we say more, such as “Have a good weekend,” or “Enjoy your vacation” or something related to a topic we discussed such as “Good luck with your triathlon.”  Not having the Spanish words for a somewhat spontaneous wrap up I get quiet and suffer through the silence.

This reminded me of when I first learned about the importance of having something to comment on as you’re saying goodbye to someone, whether in English or Spanish. It was many years ago and I was being escorted to the elevator by a hiring manager after she interviewed me. It was a week before the tax deadline and during the interview we had talked a little bit about how we both still had to complete our taxes before the April 15 due date. As she walked me to the elevator and we said goodbye she said, “Good luck with your taxes.” I could only say, “You too” because I had forgotten we had talked about the topic and I was so focused on how the interview went. I wasn’t thinking about small talk. But I quickly realized you not only make a better impression on others when you comment on something they shared earlier in the conversation it also fills that awkward pause after you say goodbye.

I now make a point of listening better and making a mental note to comment on something that seems particularly important or timely that the person shared. For instance, I’ll say to a client who told me his daughter is getting married in a week, “Have fun at the wedding and good luck giving your toast. I’m sure your daughter and future son-in-law will be very touched.”

Next time you meet with someone; have that goodbye comment ready to go. You’ll be happy you did. As for me and my Spanish teacher, I look forward to the day where I can easily find something to comment on in Spanish after I give the usual “Adios.” Won’t she be impressed!

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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