You've just had a really interesting conversation with a potential colleague, friend, or customer. Or maybe you've had a chat that was a tedious waste of your time. Either way, the conversation is done and you would like to move on -- but you don't want to seem rude or uninterested. What do you do?
It is possible to terminate a conversation gracefully, says Morag Barrett, an HR consultant, leadership coach and author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships. Yesterday, I shared Barrett's tips for starting a networking conversation. Here are her tips for ending one politely:
1. Say thank you and goodbye.
Sometimes the easiest approach is to be direct. "It's been great talking with you. Thank you for sharing your experience. Enjoy the rest of the evening." Barrett suggests accompanying this statement with a handshake (unless one or both of your are balancing food and drinks), and then moving on.
2. Excuse yourself to phone home.
"Please excuse me, I have to check on the kids before they go to bed," or a similar family-related call is a reliable way to end a conversation. "As you exit, make sure you do in fact make call (or at the very least appear to be making one)," Barrett warns.
3. Ask who else you should meet.
"I promised myself I would meet three new people this evening. Who would you suggest I talk to next?" This approach works especially well if the person you're talking with knows a lot of other people at the event. They might even make an introduction to help things along. If they don't have a suggestions for whom you should meet, say thank you and move on, Barrett advises.
4. Introduce the other person to someone you know.
This is the flip side of the last piece of advice, Barrett says. "You are initiating the new introduction and once you've done so, you are free to move on."
5. Ask directions to the rest room.
"A simple excuse and a signal that the conversation has come to an end," Barrett says. "However, do head to the rest room and not the bar to avoid any misunderstanding or offense."
6. Offer to deliver a drink.
This isn't among Barrett's tips, but it's a strategy I've used often to end a conversation at an event. Say something like, "I'm going to go get a drink (or coffee or whatever). Would you like me to bring you something?" This polite offer will nearly always meet with a polite refusal, but if the other person takes you up on it, it's quite acceptable to bring the drink, say something like, "I really enjoyed meeting you," and move on.
7. Ask if you will meet the other person at a future event.
"I've really enjoyed talking with you. Will you be at the next meeting? Maybe we can continue our conversation then." As Barrett says, this is short and sweet and leaves the door open for future connections. It also signals that you need to move on for now.
8. Ask for the other person's card.
"Sometimes the most obvious approaches are the easiest," Barrett says. "Ask for a card, look at it, and thank the person for their time."
9. Give the other person your card.
Barrett recommends saying something like, "Let me give you my card. Please get in touch if I can help you in any way." If you don't want the other person's card or he or she doesn't offer one, then offer yours instead. "It's a standard signal that the conversation is ending," she says.
10. Ask to connect on social media.
Barrett recommends saying something like, "Thanks for spending time with me. May I connect with you on LinkedIn?" She herself likes to ask permission before sending a connection request, although that may not be strictly necessary. Depending on your industry and whether your new acquaintance is more a business connection or a personal one, you might ask to connect on Facebook or some other social network. Like asking for a card, it's a good way to signal that today's conversation is over, but you would like to stay in touch.
11. Plan a get-together.
If you and the other person could potentially do business together, or you would like to make friends with him or her, then ask if he or she would like to meet for coffee at a future date. That will give the two of you an opportunity to talk with fewer distractions. And it also means you can both move on for today and find other interesting people to start new conversations with.