Tangents are changeable creatures. They’re fun in casual conversation, leading us down rabbit holes of conversation. Eventually someone asks “how did we get on this topic?” Laughter ensues.
In professional settings, they are deadly. When there is a point and a purpose to a conversation, telling people that you are about to go on a tangent is like dropping a chloroform bomb. Eyes glaze over, the clock stops, and the conversation derails.
The time it takes to wrest the conversation back to where it was supposed to be goes well past the end of the tangent. People’s brains have already honed in on the new information and ontext that the tangent presented. On top of this, the refocusing has to happen with everyone involved in the conversation. The larger the group, the longer it can take, especially if other people start chiming in on the tangent.
So I challenge you: become a tangent killer. Start with yourself: no matter how tempting the tangent may be, if you are in a focused, purposeful conversation, leave it until the end. If you are in a conversation and a tangent comes on, do your damnedest to get it back on track. Have an arsenal of tangent-interrupters ready and waiting, such as “we’re really pressed for time here, but I want to hear the end of that – could you tell me more after the meeting?” or “My brain is tiny and has but space for one thing at a time…” If you are the organizer of the meeting or some other authority figure, leverage your position to wrest the conversation back on track. Again, saying things like “let’s keep this on topic” can elevate you to level of savior in the eyes of other people subject to the tangent’s time wasting effort. Be direct, firm, and polite. Don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings by getting the conversation back on track.
Yes, there might be a chance that you’ll annoy the tangenter, or possible seem as a bit on the stuffy side, but that will pale in comparison to the time and brain space you’ll be saving. So pick up your sword. Kill the tangent. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let yourself fall prey to its lure!