The other night at a networking event I ran into someone I had met at another event. We were chatting, when during a somewhat awkward pause he looked at his plate and said “these chicken wings are really good. I’m going to get some more.” He walked away and went to the buffet and started filling up his plate. I stood there for a minute wondering if I should follow him, stay where I was and wait for him to return or go find another person to talk to.
After standing there for a few more moments, feeling rather stupid, I realized he was not coming back. I wondered if I had said something wrong or maybe, horrors, I had halitosis. I felt foolish for standing there thinking he would return.
What went wrong here? As I reflected on this, I realized this guy, I’ll call him Chris, was finished with talking to me but had no idea how to gracefully end the conversation. He attempted by giving a plausible excuse, but he did not make it clear the conversation was over.
The most important rule when ending a conversation with someone, whether at a networking event, party or out and about, is to be gracious and kind to your conversation partner. Even if the person was the biggest bore or had the worse halitosis it’s important to not communicate displeasure with them. And, you must clearly end the conversation so you’re partner isn’t wondering if you’re coming back.
What could Chris have done differently? At the very least he should have said to me, “wow, these chicken wings are really good. I’m going to get some more. It was great seeing you again. Enjoy the event and I hope to see you at another one.”
Or “I’m going to freshen my drink. I enjoyed our conversation. May I have your business card? I’d love to stay in touch.”
Or, “It’s been really nice talking to you. I don’t want to keep you from mingling with others. Enjoy the event.”
Or, “Arden, have you met Mary? She is also into biking. I bet you two have a lot in common.”Then make the introduction and exit the conversation.
All of these options are kind and clearly convey the conversation is finished. I would have known immediately Chris did not want me to follow him, nor wait for him to return after chowing down.
We really shouldn’t expect to talk to someone for more than five minutes at a networking event. That’s usually about how long we can sustain small talk with a stranger. So, expect to enter and exit several conversations at an event. Just exit conversations graciously, so that the person saves face and doesn’t wonder if they said or did something wrong.