Imagine you’re at a party, but you’re stuck in a conversation with someone you just met. You want to navigate the room, but you don’t want to be rude by cutting the connection off abruptly. What can you do?
It’s difficult, but certainly not impossible, to gracefully exit a conversation without hurting the other person’s feelings.
Here’s some helpful advice for how to do it, gleaned from personal experience, online message boards, interviews, and advice columns:
1. Ask a friend to rescue you. Before you enter a party, establish a signal for your friend to come and get you. Then, when you signal at them, they can pull you aside to talk.
2. Introduce them to someone else. If you know a friend at the party who might like to talk to your conversation partner, connect them to each other. You can stay for a while longer to facilitate the introduction. Then, when they start hitting it off, you can say, “I’ll let you guys talk” and leave them be. It could end up benefiting everyone.
3. Or, 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.
If you’re not at a networking event, you can simply say that you don’t know many other people at the party, and you’d love to be introduced to their friends as well.
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,” says Leil Lowndes, author of “How To Talk To Anyone.”
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 call your parents or send a message to a friend who has been waiting on you. If you really want to be sneaky about it, there are some apps you can get that will send you a “fake call” on demand.
For example, Tickle is an upcoming iPhone app that will generate a phantom phone call if you “tickle” your phone. It’s a great way to escape any awkward situation.
6. Leave things vague. You can simply say “please excuse me.” Most of the time, they won’t question you. In fact, they will probably just assume you need to go to the bathroom, so you have a good excuse.
7. Find a natural transition. “A spontaneous interruption is the glue that holds your alibi together and makes the polite excuse work,” writes Jodi Glickman, author of “Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It. The Secrets of Getting Ahead.”
Find something in the room that makes you realise something. For example, you can look at the clock and say: “Wow, I just realised 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: “Listen, it’s been great catching up with you, but…”
10. Bring the conversation full circle. If you want a smooth ending, 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 out that recipe book. I’m so glad I asked you for cooking advice!”
11. Suggest a future plan. Offer to stay in touch, whether by sending follow-up information about what you talked about or recommending their business to someone else who might be interested.
If you talked about a restaurant you liked, make plans to eat there sometime. If they told you about their favourite book, tell them you’ll read it and let them know what you thought.
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 purse. “Take a moment to look at it,” advises Lowndes. “It’s a sign of respect.”
13. Emphasise how much you enjoyed their company. Try this: “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. Of course, none of these techniques will work if you come across as a blatant liar. Even if you don’t actually need to call your parents or grab a drink, walk toward your destination purposefully, and spend a bit of time there before starting a conversation with someone else.