Getting out of those awkward neverending conversations
Ending a networking conversation can be awkward, unpleasant, but absolutely necessary. My colleague, Gary, wrote a wonderful article about why you should end your networking conversations in a timely manner, but I also feel it’s important to address how to politely end those very conversations.
Obviously, you do not want to alienate a potential contact, but you also don’t want to be roped into endless small talk just because, either. So how do you exit those conversations to save face and time? Here are a few tried and true tips to help make things less awkward:
Try not to feel obligated to stay
Too many times when we’re in a conversation, we feel as if it would be rude to leave, even though we know we’re needed elsewhere. You’re at an event to network. There is nothing rude about politely excusing yourself and moving on to your next contact.
You have things to do, people to meet, and so do they.
Don’t be afraid to exit. The following tips on how to make a less awkward exit will hopefully help you with this struggle.
Simply excuse yourself
If you’ve just met someone, you do not owe them an explanation. A simple “excuse me,” will suffice. If you feel like that’s a bit too short (as I tend to), an extended version of the same sentiment is, “Please, excuse me. I need to talk to [insert name here].”
It’s still short and to the point but offers a brief explanation so the person doesn’t feel like they’ve done anything to offend you. I tend to err on the side of caution and over-explanation, but you should do whatever comes naturally for you and the setting.
The “no fail” excuse
When all else fails and you feel like you owe the person more of an explanation, there is one excuse that never fails, “Please, exuse me, I’m going to make quick trip to the restroom. It was so nice to meet you.”
This gets you free from the conversation immediately, as everyone understands the pressing need for the restroom after a few rounds of networking cocktails.
Make plans for a later date
Especially in networking events, it may be helpful to exit the conversation with a promise of connecting again later.
Exchanging business cards and details and giving definite date to get together “let’s have lunch next week,” instead of “let’s get together,” is a helpful way to close the conversation, but let the other party know you’re interested in discussing things later.
Another way to go about this is, “it was lovely chatting with you, but I need to go/do/meet something/someone. Could be meetup/chat next week about this?” This puts the ball in their court and lets them know you’re interested, but still have other commitments to attend to.
If you want to end all communication (but gracefully)
All the previous tips assume you want to keep things cordial and leave the doors open for further communication, but what if you’re really not interested in pursuing any further contact? Don’t give platitudes about meeting up later if you really don’t want to (I’m guilty of this one!); instead, give a business card with only your email or web address.
This limits communication, while still being cordial.
If you don’t want any type of communication simply state, “It’s been really nice talking with you, but I should really get back to place/person.” You can also use this opportunity to segue into something else. Try introducing a friend, or saying, “That’s a great idea and I think [insert name] would be just the person to help you out with that” and then politely make your exit.
Rope in a pal to help
If you’re going to an event with a friend or colleague, one of the best ways to exit a conversation without hurt feelings, is to have a preset signal. A cough, a look, holding up one finger, something to signal to the other person you need help. Then, you can exit the conversation guilt-free, but there’s no reason you can’t do this on your own with the tips above.
If people persist in talking or asking for contact details that you are not comfortable discussing/giving there is nothing wrong with saying, “If you’ll please excuse me…” and then walking away. If you try to be polite and they won’t take “no” for an answer, it’s a-okay to walk away. You don’t owe them anything more than a polite “excuse me.” Now, go to that next networking event without fear; you now have an escape plan.