Exit plans and pivots
Learn how to get yourself out of any situation or conversation
April 2023 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

Everyone’s been there. You’re at a party. Somebody asks you a question about your health, your mental health, why you weren’t at work, whether or not you have a partner, what you got on the final exam, and whether or not you’re going away this summer. All of these questions are personal. There may be questions you don’t want to answer. Answering these questions might leave you feeling embarrassed or even like a failure.

Two of the most beneficial strategies for managing difficult situations and conversations are exit plans and pivots. In this article, we will walk you through the key elements of these two strategies, which can, on the surface, seem deceptively simple but are, in fact, very effective. As you read through each of the strategies, think about a recent situation or conversation in which you could have used an exit plan or pivot, whether or not you needed them.   

Exit plans

If you’re not feeling comfortable going to certain events or worried about getting stuck in certain conversations, make sure you have an exit plan. Exit plans can be big or small. If you’re going to the party, you want to make sure that you have a way of leaving that party. In order to leave a party, you need both means of leaving as well as a reason to leave. If you drove yourself or came with a close friend, then you’ve got the way of leaving covered, and all that is left is having a reason. In this situation, you want to have an incredible reason, even if it is made up. If you’ve got a brother or sister or even a close friend, you could simply say that they got stuck and need a lift own, and you’re going to have to go and get them right away. 

Even if you don’t have a brother or sister or close friend in the city, you can still make up a reason to leave. Just say you’re not feeling well. You’ve been feeling under the weather since yesterday, and it’s just getting worse. If you tell people that you really had a great time, it’s a wonderful party, and you wish you could stay but then excuse yourself and let them know you look forward to getting together soon, you’ll make them feel good about their party, and it won’t look like you’re blowing them off.

Exit plans are not only for parties or social gatherings. They’re also for conversations. If you get stuck in a conversation, either because it’s too boring or going in a direction that you worry is going to be too close for comfort, or a topic you don’t want to discuss, then you’ll need an exit plan for the conversation. Again you’ll need to interrupt what’s going on and excuse yourself. Just say, John, I’ll be right back. I’m just going to use the washroom get a glass of water, get a drink, and I’ll catch up. You can also add in, “John, it’s good to catch up. It’s so very interesting. I’m going to check in with a few more people, and I’ll be back to see you later on. Again, it doesn’t matter much what the reason is. Just be polite and confident. If you get called out later on in the evening for avoiding someone, just say you got talking to other people; it’s a wonderful party, I’ve enjoyed talking to so many people, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.    

How exit plans and pivots work — It’s all about control. 

Pivots and excellent plans work so well for two reasons. First, they give you a concrete plan, something to do and something to say in those situations which are uncomfortable in which you may be asked something that you don’t want to answer. Second, they give you control of the situation. If you are in control, you will experience much less stress, anxiety and worry. Having a sense of control will make it easier to get over your worry and uncertainty about what might happen and keep you from going to a party, out with other people, or any other social event. If you know that you have an exit plan and you know how to pivot, there’s no social situation that you won’t be able to manage. 

Not just a bandaid.

Some say that exit plans and pivots are just band-aids and that you are not really dealing with your anxiety or worry. What’s important about pivots and exit plans is that they allow you to go to those gatherings which you may ordinarily avoid because of your worry or because of the uncertainty about what might happen. These strategies are designed to remove any reason that has to do with worry or uncertainty that prevents you from going. These strategies are designed to get you through worrisome and stressful situations and help you learn that the worries and uncertainties you have about what might happen are not real reasons for avoiding them


A pivot is used when you are in a conversation, can’t really bail out, but want to steer the conversation in a new direction. For example, people may ask you how you did on the final exam, which you don’t want to answer directly. You don’t have to. The skill here is to say something minimal about the exam and then pivot to a new topic. You might say I’m so glad that exams are over. It was very hard. I think it went okay. I am so looking forward to the summer. I’m going to visit some friends and get started at my job. It’s going to be great. What are you doing for this summer? There, that’s a pivot. You said something minimal about the exam. You didn’t answer the question directly. And you pivoted to a new topic and finished with a question. 

People pivot in conversations all the time. Say something minimal. Don’t answer the question directly. Pivot to a new topic—Ideally, a topic that will be interesting, garner that person’s attention and steer them in a new direction. If you know the person, ask them about something that is of interest to them. Ask them about their dogs or cat, their family where they’re going for the summer. It doesn’t matter.

Some topics are harder to pivot from than others. For example, if you’ve been away from school or work because of a health or mental health reason, people are going to ask you about your health when you’re back. You still don’t have to answer that question in any detail at all again. Say something minimal in pivot to a new topic. You might say, you know I haven’t been well lately, but I’m feeling better now. It’s good to be back. I’m looking forward to getting started. How is work for you? This has all the elements of a pivot. You answered the question minimally, you pivoted to a new topic, and you asked a question. The additional piece of information in this pivot is that you’ve said you’re feeling better, and it’s good to be back. This lets people know that you’re doing okay, and they don’t need to ask or worry.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Exit plans and pivots can be extremely effective, but they are skills which work best when you practice. That means have your exit plan in place. Rehearse what you’re going to say long before you need to.



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