How to Escape Endless Networking Conversations

Image from Heath Lowrance

~~Another entry in our ongoing series on Networking Tips.~~

She just won’t stop talking. It’s fifteen minutes into a one-hour networking session and all you’ve done is listen to her talk about how her company’s new iPhone app / her patent for comfortable high heeled shoes / her algae-based nutrition bars will revolutionize everything. Maybe it will, but you need to move on. But how do you do it without coming across as insensitive or rude?

This is a tough challenge that everyone faces periodically. There are a few ways to extricate yourself politely.

Method #1: Appreciate and Extricate

In this approach, you appreciate and then you exit. The appreciation minimizes the discomfort of ending a conversation. It helps her save face and helps you avoid feeling like a cad.

There are two ways to exit. The first way is to go with the obvious. You’re at a networking event and you’re here to meet a lot of people, so you simply say that.

If that doesn’t work, exit by blaming your body. You have a physical need such as thirst or hunger that needs attention. Everyone can understand this since everyone has a body. So it’s an easy way to leave a conversation.

Here’s what Appreciate and Extricate looks like:

“Wow. I’ve learned a lot from this conversation. I know we’re both here to network, so why don’t we meet some other people? Great to meet you. Thanks for the conversation.”

Or, if the simple method doesn’t work:

“Wow. I’ve learned a lot from this conversation. I’ve got to admit, though, that if I don’t get water / food / a bathroom break, I’m going to be in trouble. See you later.”

Notice that there are no lies in this approach. You probably did learn something (albeit something you never wanted to learn anything about). And if you don’t tend to yourself, you might be in trouble (she doesn’t need to know that the trouble might be intense boredom or anxiety about missing people you do need to connect with at the event).

So: appreciate and extricate. But what if she doesn’t accept your extrication? What if she says, “Me too! I’ll walk you to the bar / buffet / bathroom.”

Horrors! It’s time for Method #2.

Method #2: Mix It Up

In Method #2, you acknowledge that your new best friend isn’t going to be easy to leave behind. So instead of leaving her alone, bring in a helper. Keep your eyes open for a singleton walking near you. Be especially alert for someone who looks a little awkward or out-of-sorts. Then greet that person warmly:

“Hello! I don’t think we’ve met. Would you like to join us?”

The trick to this method is that you can’t leave immediately. Spend about five minutes with the newbie and your new best friend. Introduce yourself, introduce your bestie, and then ask a nice, open-ended question of the newbie to get him talking. At a slight pause in conversation, use Appreciate and Extricate and get yourself out of there.

Method #3: The Polite Interruption

What if she just won’t stop talking? What if she’s on a monologue and you can’t get a word in without feeling rude? Thanks to colleagues Ben Benjamin and Amy Yeager, authors of Conversation Transformation (with Anita Simon), I now know how to interrupt skillfully. Here’s what Ben and Amy recommend.

First, figure out whether you need to interrupt. You’ll need to do this if:

  • She hasn’t stopped talking for a looong time.
  • She’s rambling and not making much sense.
  • She’s off-track.
  • Her monologue is preventing the two of you from achieving your goal, which is to have a productive, mutually beneficial exchange.
  • You missed something important that she said.
  • You’re starting to tune out.
  • You’re starting to get angry.
  • You feel like you might as well be a brick wall because she doesn’t seem to notice you at all.
  • You have a need that you need to address immediately.

It’s important interrupt before you get so frustrated that it’s impossible to interrupt skillfully. You’ll need to be pleasant and positive partially for the sake of your own self-dignity, but also for the impression you’ll make on others around you. If you sound angry, others may notice and you may end up with an undeserved reputation.

Now, how to interrupt skillfully: Lean forward towards your partner, and, positively and confidently, say one of these things:

  • Hold on a moment!
  • Hold on—I want to make sure I understand.
  • Hold on—You mentioned something important that I don’t want to lose.
  • Whoa!

Quickly, before she has a chance to respond, Appreciate and Extricate using the tips in Method #1.

What if Nothing Works?

I’ve always gotten away with one of the three methods outlined above. However, I’m fond of Shar Rednour’s over-the-top technique that she describes in The Femme’s Guide to the Universe:
“Throw your arms up in the air and say ‘STEP AWAY FROM THE QUEEN! STEP AWAY FROM THE QUEEN!’”

OK, that’s probably not a good idea in a work setting. But it is fun to imagine, isn’t it?

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