How To Gracefully Exit A Conversation

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You are at a networking event or business conference and you are in a conversation with someone you just met and feeling trapped.  You do not want to be rude, but you want to have conversations with others in the room.  What do you do?  How do you diplomatically and gracefully end the conversation? 

Although not impossible, exiting a conversation without hurting the other person’s feeling can be difficult.  I have some tried and true tips for you from personal experience. 

While written as a business article, some of these tips could help you in a social setting also.

1. Ask a friend to rescue you. Before you enter an event, establish a signal for a friend or colleague to come and get you. Then, when you signal at them, they can pull you aside to talk.

2. Introduce them to someone else.  Connect them to another person whom they can have a conversation with. You can stay for a while longer to facilitate the introduction and then leave them to get to know one another.

3. Ask them to introduce you to others. This is perfect for networking events. Ask them if they know someone else who shares similarities with you or might be able to help you with your future goals.

4. Get a drink or food. You can offer to bring them one, but chances are they will say no, so you won't have to come back. If they say yes, simply bring a friend with you.  You can hand them the drink, have a few words with them, but then continue your conversation with your friend.

Another, slightly sneaky way to leave is called “double-fisted networking”.  You can carry two drinks, and when you want to exit the conversation, simply say you have to deliver the other drink before your friend leaves. A bonus is that if you find yourself in a good conversation, you can share the drink with them.

5. Use your phone. Tell them you need to step out to follow up with an earlier conversation and promised them a call within a certain time frame.

6. Leave things vague. You can simply say “please excuse me”.  Most of the time, they won't question you. In fact, they'll probably just assume you need to go to the bathroom, so you have a good excuse. 

7. Find a natural transition.  Find something in the room that makes you realize something. For example, you can look at the clock and say: "Wow, I just realized it's 8 o'clock. I have to get going."

8. Be considerate of their time. Frame things from their point of view. You can say, "I don't want to monopolize your time," or, "I'm sure other people want to talk to you, too." Be careful not to do this too often, though, because you don't want to come off as disingenuous.

9. Wait for a lull in the conversation. These momentary pauses indicate turning points where you can either introduce a new conversation topic or close the conversation without being rude. Then, you can transition without cutting them off. One example: "It’s been great catching up with you”

10. Bring the conversation full circle.  Bring up the reason you started talking in the first place. For example, if you started the conversation by asking for advice, thank them for the tip and summarize what you learned from them.

For instance, you could say: "Thanks for the heads up. I'll definitely check it out”

11. Suggest a future plan. Offer to stay in touch, whether by sending follow-up information about what you talked about or recommending thie business to someone else who might be interested.

Even if you can't find any future plans to make, at least acknowledge what you learned in the conversation and thank them for sharing.

12. Ask for their business card or contact information. It naturally implies that the conversation is coming to an end, but it also shows that you want to stay in touch with them for the future. When you take their business card, make sure you don't just stuff it in your pocket or purse. Take a moment to look at it, it's a sign of respect.

13. Emphasize how much you enjoyed their company.  "I loved talking to you, but I want to catch up with a few other people. Hopefully we can see each other again before the end of the event!"

Make sure you include their name, so you can show you'll remember them. If you want to take it a step further, thank them for their time. There's no harm in being gracious and showing how much you enjoyed talking to them.

14. Do what you said you would do. None of these techniques will work if you come across as a blatant liar. Even if you don't actually need to make a call or grab a drink, walk toward your destination purposefully, and spend a bit of time there before starting a conversation with someone else.