Many articles on networking talk about how to start conversations, but there is a lot less written about how to gracefully extricate yourself from a conversation. Although you get only one chance to make a first impression, sometimes it’s the end of that interaction that is the most important. You want to make sure you end every encounter professionally and in a way that makes the other party feel valued and respected so that they want to continue the relationship.
Leave the event. It’s easy to leave if the event has a definite end time or the food or bar is starting to be put away. You simply draw attention to that fact, and take your leave. Alternatively, you could say you have another appointment or just need to get going. But if you say you’re going to leave, make sure to do just that; you don’t want to be seen an hour later talking to someone else.
Leave the room.If the event is held in a large room or multiple rooms, you can find a reason for needing to be somewhere else. Maybe you are going to check out some of the other posters, go to the restroom, refill your glass, get more food, or find a place to set down your empty glass or plate. Thank the other person, indicate politely but firmly why you are leaving, then do it.
Leave the conversation. If it’s a smaller event and you just want to leave this particular conversation, it becomes a bit trickier. If you are part of a group conversation, you can give a quick “excuse me” and step away—you are not leaving anyone stranded.
If it’s just you and one other person, it’s a little more difficult. One option is to identify someone else in the room that has something in common with your current partner, and introduce the two of them. Once they start talking, you can excuse yourself to “let the two of you talk.”
If you need an urgent reason to leave, maybe you see someone you’ve been trying to catch and need to talk to that person right now.
Another option is to compliment your partner with “You’ve given me a lot to think about” or “I’ve really enjoyed this conversation,” followed by “I look forward to seeing you at the event next month.” You could also leave as a favor: “I’ll let you get back to your poster.”
Read the signs. No matter how interesting you find the conversation, make sure to watch the other person’s body language. Glancing around the room, looking at one’s watch, and edging toward the door are all signals of looking for a way out, so provide one. It’s always better to leave someone wanting more.
It’s important to remember to be polite and respectful and make sure it doesn’t look like you dumped or abandoned the person for someone better. As long as you end the conversation gracefully, he or she will be happy to talk to you again in the future.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns on the ACS Careers blog (www.acs.org/network-careers).