How to Politely End a Conversation

At networking functions or social gatherings, there's a time to mingle and a time to move on. For many people, the most difficult part of the conversation is knowing when and how to walk away. The goal is to leave the person glad they visited with you, instead of hanging mid-sentence. Follow these tips to wrap up your exchange on a high note.

  • Be fully present. Pleasant and sincere dialogue helps to set the stage for a friendly exit. That means being an active participant, showing interest, asking questions and thoughtfully listening. A genuine comment such as, "Wow, I had no idea there was so much involved in content marketing!" sends the message that you have heard what they are saying and are engaged.

  • Make sure your body language communicates your interest. Stay focused on the person speaking. Avoid looking over their shoulder or around the room to see who you want to connect with next. Keep your cell phone out of view and don't glance down at your watch. Any one of these gestures, or all of them in combination, is the recipe for a relationship disaster.
  • Don't use an excuse. Saying you are going to grab a bite to eat and then heading directly over to another group of people leaves you looking dishonest. While you can't help greeting people along the way to the buffet line, using a weak pretext for walking away is obvious. Extend your hand for a farewell handshake and let the other person know you are going to continue to network. It's both expected and authentic to continue to mix and mingle at an event.
  • Give the other person permission to go. The most thoughtful strategy is to let the other person exit comfortably, "I don't want to monopolize your time; I'm sure you would like to visit with other people tonight, but I've really enjoyed talking with you." The beauty of this tactic is that you show respect for their time (even if you are the one who's ready to move on).
  • Mention a follow-up if you truly want to stay in touch. You can bow out by asking for a business card and expressing your interest in continuing the conversation - but only if you mean it. "This has been really interesting. I'd love to hear more about your industry. Maybe we could visit more over coffee or lunch. May I offer you my card?" Warning: this will backfire unless you are genuinely interested in meeting up again, and you believe that the other person would welcome the opportunity.
  • Expand the circle. This strategy can work if you are able to make introductions to others at the event. Try to establish a connection between the person you're talking to and someone else you know: "Oh, you are into mountain climbing? You have got to meet Al - let me introduce him to you." Once they meet, you are either free to enjoy the new dynamic of the conversation or excuse yourself: "I'll let you two visit."
  • Escape from long-winded talkers. There are always people who have a talent for monopolizing the discussion. They are so busy rambling on that they ignore subtle cues that others are losing interest. In this situation, an extra dose of assertiveness is required. Insert yourself into their monologue with some variation of the following: "Sally, thank you for sharing your safari adventures. I see someone I want to say hello to - please excuse me. Have a great evening."
  • In any conversation, the key to success is give and take and being mindful of others' feelings.

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