Recently a friend and I were at a dinner and book-signing event with a prominent historical author and speaker. I had been to similar events at this particular venue, and in fact had heard this speaker the year previous as well. I spent the evening reconnecting with familiar faces, engaging in heated conversations with unfamiliar faces, and enjoying an evening of laughter, intense discussions, and connectivity with everyone in the room who had been brought together through common interests.
Until…I got caught in the nice trap!
I had inadvertently found myself outside of the conversational loops of which I had come to enjoy, and stuck in a pointless, never ending, and quite frankly inappropriate conversation with a friend of a friend. I was not enjoying it.
But I wanted to be Nice.
To make matters worse, the keynote speaker was not two feet away from me enjoying an after dinner drink and
lively conversation with friends who I had just been speaking with before I turned to say hello to the new acquaintance. I could hear them behind me, I had opinions to share, and I wanted to be a part of the discussion.
But I wanted to be Nice.
We’ve all heard it, we’ve all been taught it, and we all fear not upholding it. As Canadians we may have it worse; it is a part of our culture and identity. As women, it is the cornerstone of our nursery rhymes. As professionals and business owners we fear alienating people over it. And as decent human beings, we try to live it each and every day.
But what happens when being nice takes us in the opposite direction from what we need or want? More importantly, how do we become better at recognizing when we’re being nice to our own detriment, and how do we remove ourselves from these undesirable situations and get back into alignment with what we want? It’s simple…
Let’s take the concept of being nice and apply it to networking events. The most common question I hear when speaking to a group of professionals about networking is, “How do I politely end a conversation when I am ready to move on?”
There are a few ways I’ll end a conversation when the time to circulate has come, and each one comes down to graciousness. Let’s look at the two most common examples:
1. You are not enjoying the conversation
When I find myself stuck in a conversation that I want to run away from as soon as possible, whether it’s because the person I am with is rude, offensive, the conversation is awkward and superficial, or he just has bad breath, I will wait for a natural pause in the conversation and with a genuine smile simply say, “I think it’s time we circulated and met some new people. Before we split up do you have a card?” Take his card, reach out and shake his hand (nice firm handshakes please) and then say, “Thank you so much, it was great meeting you. Enjoy the rest of the event.”
2. I am genuinely enjoying the conversation but it is going on too long
I often find myself having fun, profound, interesting and even deep conversations with people I meet while out networking; this is, of course, the goal! It can be easy to go find a corner and talk all night long to your new best friend, but is probably not the reason you are at this event. Plus, you want to be aware not to hog all of your conversational counterpart’s time either. In this situation, much like above, I will wait for a natural pause in the conversation, or make one if we can’t stop ourselves from starting new topics and say, “I am so glad I met you and am having a great time talking with you. I think we should probably keep mingling with the rest of the room. Do you want to continue this conversation over coffee sometime soon?” Ask for his or her card, let them know when you’ll be getting in touch with them (ex “I’ll give you a call tomorrow morning” or “I’ll shoot you off an email tonight so we can set something up”), reach out and shake their hand and end it with, “Enjoy the rest of the event, we’ll talk soon.”
These are direct, bold, and to the point suggestions. They work for me because they are congruent with my networking personality. They also take practice. There are many variations to the actual words you say, depending on the event and conversation. You’ll feel what works for you and what doesn’t and over time develop your own technique. What’s key—and I cannot stress this enough—is graciousness.
I only have one hard and fast rule when teaching people how to exit conversations gracefully: never, ever tell the person that you see someone else you need to go talk to! It comes across as rude, and implies you have someone “more important” to spend your time with.
Take charge of your time and of the conversation. Whether you aren’t enjoying the conversation, feeling put off by the other person, or having the best conversation of your life, it is important to know when to wrap things up and continue to circulate around the room. The trick is to be gracious, be sincere, shake their hand, and keep it moving.