The Holiday Collection: How to Get Out of a Conversation

Tis the season for school programs and cocktail parties and holiday dinners and New Year's Day brunches. Some of us even have soirees at The White House. I won't mention any names, no reason to brag.

Okay -- it was ME! Yes, I was in the nation's capital this month and had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and my sister Naomi, and Governor Bill Ritter. Not necessarily in that order.

This year's Holiday Collection of blogs has included how to start a conversation and how to break into a group who is already happily conversing, so by now you are feeling good, yes? You are small-talking away with a previous stranger or you are entrenched in a lively discussion with a group. But now you want to...

Get. Out.

Yes, you've thoroughly enjoyed the chatting and you've used your skills to shine, but all good things must come to an end. Even a lively interchange that you, in fact, initiated. Here's where honesty and maybe a little humor go hand-in-hand. If you are kind and to the point, you should be able to extricate yourself from the conversation without damaging the relationship or, more importantly, the other person's ego.

In my book, The Fine Art of Small Talk, I dedicate an entire chapter to this very topic, but it's the holiday season and there is no time for chapters -- only short cuts. First, find a natural break in the conversation, whether it is someone else joining the group or the ending of a funny story. Then, smile, offer your hand, and use a direct, kind approach to disengage. Here are a few one-liners to help you on your way out:

  • "It was so good to catch up/see/meet you! I must be moving on. Enjoy the rest of the evening and happy holidays to you."

  • "What a great story/party/joke. I'm heading out, but I look forward to the next time we meet."
  • "I am going to circulate -- maybe I'll see you back at the buffet in a bit."
  • "I need to catch up with my friend/Naomi/the president, so please excuse me while I search him out."
  • The key is to be authentic. Do not lie. I have heard too many stories of people saying they had to go call the babysitter only to be caught minutes later by the conversation dumpee yukking it up on the other side of the room. So do what you say you are going to do and do not make false excuses. When it comes to conversational clout, you've got to take your oath seriously, White House or not.