Dread small talk at parties, back when such things existed? If so, a new study may shed light on why. It turns out almost everyone is lousy at knowing when to end a conversation, reports Science. In most cases, people report the chats go on too long, say researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The first part of the study looked at 126 one-on-one conversations in a lab setting between strangers, after which 69% of participants say they wished things ended sooner. Maybe more telling is that only 2% of those conversations—fewer than three of them—ended when both parties wished. As it turns out, people are rarely in sync on what their conversation partner wants.
They might keep talking because they think it's rude to bow out, or stop talking too soon for fear that they're boring their partner. Indeed, in about 30% of chats, at least one partner wanted to talk longer. "Whatever you think the other person wants, you may well be wrong," lead author Adam Mastroianni, a psychology researcher at Harvard, tells Scientific American. In a second part of the study, the research team surveyed more than 800 people online about a recent one-on-one conversation with a friend or family member and found a similar disconnect—67% of respondents say the conversation went on too long. Mastroianni found that surprising since the respondents were talking about conversations with people they knew, not strangers. "Just like you wouldn’t cut off a stranger and walk away, you also wouldn’t do the same thing to your mother," he observes. (Read more conversation stories.)