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How to Gracefully Exit a Schmooze

By David Ackert on December, 4 2013

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David Ackert

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news: The holiday season will provide social events during which you can reconnect with friends, colleagues, allies, and prospects. Your business development opportunities will increase during this time because of the increased volume of friendly conversations (and alcohol).

The bad news: You will occasionally find yourself in situations at parties where the conversation leaves you searching for an exit. Maybe the other person has bad breath or drones on endlessly about a dull topic. Maybe they’re on a rant or a pitch that turns you off. Maybe you're both bored with the conversation and can't find a way to end it. Regardless, you can’t figure out how to change the topic or excuse yourself without offending them.

So, how do you gracefully exit the schmooze?

My holiday gift to you this season is to give you a few techniques that will enable you to politely extricate yourself so that you don't get stuck in someone else's schmooze trap. But first, a caveat: In order to do this effectively, you may have to tell a lie, albeit of the white variety, so as to save their feelings and your reputation. Here are a few to consider:

  1. The empty glass: "Excuse me, I'm going to go refill my drink. It's been nice speaking with you."
  2. The friend: "I just spotted Mary, who I need to speak with before she leaves tonight. Will you excuse me?"
  3. The introduction: Look around the room for someone you can introduce to your loquacious new friend. Then, when the conversation is engaged, politely excuse yourself.
  4. The little boys/girls room: "Do you know where the restrooms are?" Even if nature didn't call, wash your hands, check your teeth for spinach dip, and when you come out, find a new conversation to join.
  5. The phone call: "Excuse me, do you know what time it is? I need to check in at home." This interrupts the conversation and gives you an opportunity to make sure the babysitter hasn’t hosted a rave in your living room.
  6. The card: "I've enjoyed speaking with you - perhaps we can continue this conversation later. Do you have a card?" This allows you to step away and assess how (or whether) you might revisit the conversation at a later time.
  7. No reason: You can always say, “Please excuse me for a moment,” and step away with purpose. They will assume that you had to use the restroom or that you felt your phone buzz in your pocket or whatever. Just make sure you don't roll your eyes or sigh with relief as you walk away.

Whenever someone has used one of these lines on me, I have never felt offended, even though it was clear that they were making an escape. And I'm grateful that they didn't say, "Sorry, but you're boring the heck out of me. I'm going to walk away now." The key to exiting the conversation gracefully is to be respectful of the other person's feelings. They won't care about your reason for bowing out, as long as they aren't left with the impression that it had anything to do with their company. When it comes to social etiquette, cordiality is revered over honesty.

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