If you don’t know how to start a conversation, ending one shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Starting a conversation, however, is more important than ending a conversation. That said, both have to happen, and can be dicey if not done properly, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re in the conversation in the first place.
Business networking is about learning from and helping others. You help them — they help you right back. And all of that can’t happen without a good conversation.
A good conversation, at least when you’re networking, often begins with an introduction and some in-depth questions. If you’re able to ask great questions, give great answers, tell a story or two, be interesting, establish common ground, and find a way to help one another over a few laughs, you’re on your way to a great conversation.
But how do you break away from that great conversation to meet other people? Should you? Will you offend them? Will it feel weird for you? Maybe, maybe, and maybe … And it gets worse.
What if the conversation you’re having is boring, there is no common ground, and you can’t wait to get out of there?
Truth be told, I have a difficult time ending conversations when I’m in a networking scenario. It’s not that I don’t know how, I just simply love spending time talking to great people in business settings. My fear is that the next person I meet may not be as much fun or as good a connection. Sounds shallow, but it’s true.
I try not to speak to any one person (or to any small group) for longer than 6 to 8 minutes, without ever looking at my watch because that’s just rude. But I try to mentally establish a time limit, so I can break away to meet others and also allow those I’m speaking with to mingle.
Do I ever spend less than 6 minutes with anyone? Absolutely, when there isn’t a great connection. Do I ever spend more than 8 minutes speaking with anyone? You bet. When I have permission and there is good reason to do so.
Before tackling how to end a conversation, it’s important to explore why you should end the conversation.
There are only a few reasons to end a conversation at a networking event or meeting:
They’re pitching you a product or service, which is not the same as networking.
The conversation is boring and going nowhere.
There is no common ground or interest.
They don’t like you and you don’t like them.
You sense they’re done with you and want to talk to others, or you’re done with them.
You can talk to each other forever, but it’s time to go.
One of you needs to meet or speak with a particular person in the room.
One of you must offer an introduction for someone else.
One of you has to mingle because you’re the host, speaker, or both.
Here are some ideas that may help you the next time you’re in that awkward moment. It comes down to three scenarios:
1. When it’s not a good connection
Always be polite. Remember, you won’t hit it off with everyone you meet. Often, if you don’t feel a good vibe about them, they won’t feel it about you.
After asking some good questions about them, make a judgment call. Do you like them? Do you like their answers? Are they asking questions about you? Do they seem interested in learning more? Are they open to exchanging information and exploring ways of helping one other?
If you feel the answer is no, simply end the conversation when it “feels right” (not in the middle of a story they might be telling) and offer a very low level of help.