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How to gracefully exit a networking (or any) coversation

How many times have you been at a networking event and felt trapped in a seemingly endless conversation? No more. Here are some tips to gracefully exit any conversation.

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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.

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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.

#LeavingAConversation

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Opinion Editorials

Do women that downplay their gender get ahead faster?

(OPINION) A new study about gender in the workplace is being perceived differently than we are viewing it – let’s discuss.

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The Harvard Business Review reports that women benefit professionally when they downplay their gender, as opposed to trying to focus on their “differences” as professional strength.

The article includes a lot of interesting concepts underneath its click-bait-y title. According to the study by Professors Ashley Martin and Katherine Phillips, women felt increasingly confident when they pivoted from focusing on highlighting potential differences in their perceived abilities based on their gender and instead gave their attention to cultivating qualities that are traditionally coded as male*.

Does this really mean that women need to “downplay” their gender? Does it really mean women who attempt this get ahead in this world faster?

I don’t think so.

The article seems to imply that “celebrating diversity” in workers is akin to giving femme-identified employees a hot pink briefcase – it actually calls attention to stereotyped behaviors. I would argue that this is not the case (and, for the record, rock a hot pink briefcase if you want to, that sounds pretty badass).

I believe that we should instead highlight the fact that this study shows the benefits that come when everyone expands preconceived notions of gender.

Dr. Martin and her interviewer touch on this when they discuss the difference between gender “awareness” and “blindness.” As Dr. Martin explains, “Gender blindness doesn’t mean that women should act more like men; it diminishes the idea that certain qualities are associated with men and women.”

It is the paradox of studies like this one that, in order to interrogate how noxious gendered beliefs are, researchers must create categories to place otherwise gender-neutral qualities and actions in, thus emphasizing the sort of stereotypes being investigated. Regardless, there is a silver lining here as said by Dr. Martin herself:

“[People] are not naturally better suited to different roles, and [people] aren’t better or worse at certain things.”

Regardless of a worker’s gender identity, they are capable of excelling at whatever their skills and talent help them to.

*Though the HBR article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole.

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Opinion Editorials

Why I paused my career to raise our child

(OPINION) Our children are like tiny little sponges that absorb everything that we give them — your job and the sentiments it produces and evokes included.

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I never dreamed of being a stay-at-home-mom. Not in a million years did I think I’d find myself choosing to press pause on my career, but here I am, a mother for just nine months, doing just that.

HBR recently published an article about how our careers impact our children focusing on parental values and the emotional toll of our career involvement on our families. It got me thinking about my own childhood.

Growing up, my parents’ discussion of work was almost always negative. A job was something you had to do whether you liked it or not. As a child, I listened to my parents fight over money; I observed them in constant worry about the future. I watched them stress over unsatisfying jobs.

There was never any room for risk, no money to invest in a new career path, and no financial cushion to fall back on to give a new career time to grow.

Later, when choosing a path of my own, I would often wonder what my parents had wanted to be or who they could’ve been if they would’ve been able to choose careers they might’ve thrived in. All I ever knew is that my parents hated their jobs. While they’re on better financial footing now, the residue of their negativity persists in the career choices of their children.

While I was pregnant, I was working at an international tech startup in Silicon Valley. The company suffered from poor leadership; the week I was hired, my team quit and I was left to piece together a position for myself. The company continued to flounder, its culture unable to recover from interim toxic leadership.

I constantly worried about my son and the stress of a toxic culture on my pregnancy. Going into the office made me anxious. Leaving left me feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Instead of imagining a bright, beautiful baby boy, I closed my eyes and saw a dark and anxious bundle of nerves. Of course, I blamed myself for everything.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I promised my baby that when he arrived, I would do things differently. This would be the last time I accepted a job that I only felt lukewarm about. Never again would I participate in a culture that could diminish my talents and self-worth. I’d seen this kind of thing during my childhood and I’d be damned to repeat it.

During my career, I’ve watched coworkers hire full time live-in nannies, missing their baby’s developmental milestones and their children’s school events. I listened as one CMO talked about moving into his backyard yurt when the pains of parenthood became too much for him. He left his three preteen sons alone to fend for themselves in the mansion they shared in Silicon Valley.

We pride ourselves on the amount of work we put into our careers, but we rarely measure our success through the eyes of our children.

Children are mimics, they absorb everything we do, even during infancy. So, what are we offering them when we abandon them to make conference calls from yurts? What message are we sending them when our eyes are glued to texts, emails and push notifications? What are we teaching them when we come home stressed out, energy depleted and our values compromised?

We try “disrupting” anything these days so what about the working parent model? Would it be worth it?

My husband and I decided that it was and we’re doing things differently.

My husband works in the service industry. He doesn’t leave for work until late in the afternoon which means he spends all day with our son. At nine months old, my son has a strong emotional relationship with his father.

I carve out time during my days and nights to schedule writing work. I’ve recently returned to freelancing and I find that when I’m working with clients I believe in and doing work that I enjoy, we’re all much happier.

Everyone who’s ever had children says the first year goes by incredibly quickly. It’s true. My career will be there next year and for years after that. My son is only a baby once and I wouldn’t miss it for all the money in the world.

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Opinion Editorials

Zuckerberg makes eyeroll-worthy new years resolution

(EDITORIAL) This year, instead of losing weight, Zuckerberg is going to save himself and the world another way.

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Like the rest of us, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, has announced New Year resolution – public talks on the future of technology in society. In a post on his personal profile page, he has pledged to participate in and host these discussions. Quite the step down from last year’s resolution to “fix Facebook.”

We get it, Mark, baby steps.

2018 saw Zuckerberg grilled by U.S. Congress and the European Parliament. His company suffered a drop in stock due to these hearings, was caught in the Cambridge Analytica firestorm and federal investigations, etc. It’s evident Zuckerberg bit off more than he could chew and his deciding to pull back isn’t surprising.

Here are the positives: the public needs more discourse on the future of tech and how it will affect the fabric of society. We want to connect with each other – we should pay more attention to what that truly means.

The entrepreneur titans leading the charge should be part of those discussions. Politicians, people elected to wield power for the public, are placed in debate situations regularly. Why shouldn’t the face of a global, digital platform be exempt from this basic practice?

If Zuckerberg is willing to truly have a candid talk (without prep or talking points), could we learn something new about his personal views? Does Officer Data have a soul after all?

But when all is said and done, talk is… just talk. The dangers with privacy on Facebook are already here.

The stakes are rising as the political and cultural landscapes are changing every year. It’s been two years since the problems with Facebook’s user information surfaced after the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election (and Ukraine actually blew the whistle in 2015). Zuckerberg has had quite a bit of time to reflect and “talk” about what needs to be done.

We try to keep to our resolutions every new year, and we’ll see if Zuckerberg can uphold his, or if his efforts disappear as quickly as my will to ween off my daily coffee routine. Even from a skeptic’s standpoint, I’ll eagerly wait to watch what goes down in this upcoming discussions.

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