Oh, we’ve all been there. The networking conversation that just will not end.
Or, the one that’s so torturously uninteresting that you start feeling physical signs of your agony. Or, perhaps even worse, the one that isn’t a conversation at all, either because the other participant is yammering on endlessly—or is leaving it entirely up to you to inject words into the space between you. “Mmhmm...yep...I hear you.”
No matter the flavor of the dud dialogue you’ve unwittingly (or willfully) stepped into, it’s important to learn the art of the graceful exit—so you can move on to a more pleasant and fruitful banter without rubbing the other party the wrong way.
Here are four easy-to-roll-out techniques to try:
1. Pull in a Plus-One—and Then Excuse Yourself
Do you see someone you know coming your way? Then by all means flag him down, stat. Now, you don’t want to make it look like you’re trying to hot potato a boring person over to an unsuspecting target. That’s not cool at all. Instead, spend a moment or two on the greeting and playing catch up with the new participant, and then graciously introduce him to the third party. Or, better yet, bring the new person up-to-date on what you’ve been talking about, so it’s not entirely up to him to find a fresh topic to chat about.
Assuming this tactic works, and the other two begin gabbing, you can then politely excuse yourself. Do it with purpose, though. It’s always best to appear that you’d love to stay, but you just have this other super important thing to go do.
2. Offer to Buy a Drink
Few people are going to turn down an offer of a free cocktail, coffee, or soda. Seriously, people live for free food and drink. So if the going gets rough, mention that you were just about to grab a beverage, and ask if she would like one.
Now, this doesn’t officially get you “out” of the conversation (duh, you need to return with the promised goods), but it will buy you some time, during which another person may join the boring party and get you off the hook. Likewise, you just might bump into someone you know while in line at the bar. If this happens, you have a chance to politely enlist your pal to come join the conversation or realistically “save you” (just don’t call it this if you don’t know the person well).
3. Blame the Kids or the Dog or the Spouse
I’m laughing as I write this one, because I’ve had more than one networking event interrupted by a real “emergency” going on with the kids, the dog, or my husband. (Because, why wouldn’t I want to break up an argument over whose turn it is to pick the show on Netflix while I’m in the middle of a work event?)
As annoying as being pulled into these silly crises is in real life, I will tell you, they’re the perfect conversation ender. No one is ever going to be irritated or feel slighted if you need to step aside to talk your kids through how to get cat barf off the rug, or help your husband find his car keys.
Now, you’ll likely be unable to telepathically will your family to disrupt your conversation on an official basis, but nothing says you can’t pretend take a semi-urgent call or “act as if” your mobile keeps vibrating in your pocket. (“Whoa, something must be up. Could you give me a moment to call home?”) Just be careful with this one if your acting skills aren’t amazing.
4. Politely Exit, Without Explanation
We overlook the obvious sometimes, because we (understandably) get all tied up over the story we need to make up to get off the hook. If the conversation’s truly going nowhere, there’s really no shame in simply saying, “You’ll have to excuse me. It was so nice to meet you,” and then exiting stage left.
As human beings, we overexplain so often, even when the situation really doesn’t require it. (Think about when someone asks you to commit to something you don’t want to do. Do you typically just say, “I’m sorry. I’m not available,” or do you scramble to come up with a more elaborate explanation?)
Now, I’m not suggesting you excuse yourself and go jump into a conversation with people two feet away from the one you’re leaving, but you don’t always have to spell things out. And if you’re really feeling awkward about this method, head right to the restroom after you excuse yourself. I assure you, no one’s going to question that.
While you might not feel great about it when you tuck and run from a torturous dialogue, there are many ways to extract yourself without coming off as the bad guy. And truthfully, if you’re at a professional networking event, you should extract yourself from conversations that are going nowhere fast. By moving along from the pointless chatter, you open yourself up to finding someone genuinely awesome—and you enable them to find you.
Photo of bad conversation courtesy of laflor/Getty Images.
Jenny Foss is a career strategist, recruiter, and the voice of the popular career blog JobJenny.com. Based in Portland, OR, Jenny is the author of the Ridiculously Awesome Resume Kit and the Ridiculously Awesome Career Pivot Kit. Also check out the recently-launched Weekend Resume Makeover Course, find Jenny on Twitter @JobJenny, and book one-on-one coaching sessions with her on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author