Ending a small talk conversation can be tricky business. You have other things to do - you need to go back to your desk or have another call to make. Or perhaps you're at a party or networking event and want to have a chance to speak with someone else. You certainly don't want to leave the conversation with hurt feelings, but you also don't want to unnecessarily prolong it. So, how can you increase the chances that all the work you've done to build a relationship won't go down the tubes with an awkward ending?
Tip 1: Provide a rationale for ending the conversation.
Rationales serve two purposes: they provide an explanation for why you're signaling an end to the conversation - which gets you off the hook; and they can also they show that you've enjoyed the conversation - which increases the odds of a future interaction. Here are a few examples:
"I have to go in a few minutes, but before I go, I'd love to hear a bit more about (whatever you were discussing)... "
"I have to go, but I really like your advice about (whatever you were discussing). I'll keep you in the loop about how it goes..."
"I'm enjoying this conversation, but I notice that it's 9:30 and we only have until 10 to finish the project. If it's OK with you, I'm going to go but let's talk again..."
Tip 2: Leverage your immediate surroundings to create the rationale.
Use what's in your immediate surroundings to help construct your rationale. For instance, if there is a drink table nearby, ask your colleague if they want to grab a drink - knowing full well that you might either get split up in the crowd or encounter other people along the way - and thus ending the conversation "organically."
Tip 3: Make an introduction.
Along the same lines as the previous tip - introduce your conversational partner to someone else as a way to end the conversation and also help two additional people make a connection.
Tip 4: Foreshadow the ending.
Whenever we deliver "bad news" it's good to let someone know it's coming. And although ending small talk isn't a major case of bad news, it still has the potential to disappoint. So, cushion the blow and preview your ending ahead of time with something like:
" I have to go in a few minutes, but I'd love to hear one last example of..."
Or: I promised my colleague I'd introduce him to someone, but before I do, I'd love to hear a little bit more about..."
Tip 5: Remember that you might not be the only one hoping to end the conversation.
Finally, remember that if you're itching to end the conversation, you might not be alone. Most people mingling at a public gathering know the deal: you talk for a while and then move on. The trick is doing it in a graceful manner that preserves the relationship you've built. So, don't worry about hurting the other person's feelings by ending the conversation. They might be thinking the exact same thing.