How to Politely Leave a Conversation
At every networking event, there’s at least one rambler, a person who monopolizes conversation and only talks about himself or herself. If you’ve ever had the experience of being held hostage by a rambler, you know how difficult it can be to end the conversation.
This individual displays all the traits of a poor listener. He interrupts others, switches topics and directs the conversation back toward what he wants to talk about. Unfortunately, many ramblers think they are excellent networkers because they spend so much time talking. But because they dominate the conversation they spend most of their time talking at others not with them.
Next time you find yourself stuck in a never-ending conversation with a rambler, use some social finesse. The best course of action is to diplomatically close the conversation and move on without being rude or offensive. Use the following tips to maintain your reputation, spare the rambler’s feelings and successfully end the conversation.
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1. Pull in another person to the discussion.
While you’re listening to the rambler, take a look around you. Find someone nearby who might be able to contribute to conversation. Then turn your attention back to the rambler and wait for her to take a breath.
Use that opportunity to turn to the person next to you and say, “Michael, I’d like to hear your opinion on this topic.” This will open up the conversation and give someone else the opportunity to speak, which will move the spotlight off the rambler.
2. Use a common excuse.
Most networking events provide you plenty of outs in case you get stuck in an awkward situation. You could say you need to grab another refreshment from the bar, take a break to use the restroom or make a quick call.
Say something simple but direct like “Would you excuse me? I’d like to get some fresh air.” Then move to another location. Always be sure to leave things on a positive note. No matter how you excuse yourself, express that you enjoyed the conversation.
Related: Oh, Shut Up and Listen Already
3. Ask for a business card.
This is the networking equivalent of serving coffee and dessert when you’d like to end your dinner party. If your conversation has reached a plateau or you’d like to network with others in the room, ask the rambler for his business card. Alternatively, you could offer your card.
To wrap up the conversation and excuse yourself, summarize the topic of your exchange. Say something like “It was great to learn more about your business. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
4. Introduce the rambler to another acquaintance.
Since you’ll most likely end up spending the rest of the conversation listening to the rambler talk about herself, identify others with common interests. Use the context of networking event as an opportunity to introduce the rambler to another professional acquaintance.
You could say, “From what you’ve told me, it sounds like you have a passion for entrepreneurship. My friend Robert just started a new business. Let me introduce the two of you.” After the introduction has been made, excuse yourself and join another conversation.
5. Take control of the conversation.
Larry Johnson, a business consultant and co-author of Absolute Honesty, recommends the following approach for dealing with ramblers: interrupt, summarize, ask and conclude. Find a lull in the conversation and gently interrupt.
Then summarize what the rambler just said. Though it may seem counterintuitive, ask questions. It will help you stay in control and allow you to guide the conversation to another direction. Finally, assertively wrap up the discussion.
Say something like, “Samantha, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to talk with you. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve just noticed someone I need to speak with.” Conclude with a smile and a handshake before you part ways.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).