The best communicators always have a good exit strategy
Communication Hacks: Part 2
In part one we addressed the art of deeply listening, which holds surprising power. Armed with this power, you also might have realized you need to know how to control it— in particular how to perform a smooth conversation exit in maybe a social or networking situation. (Preferably smoother than “I’m going to the restroom.” 😉)
The time I realized I needed an exit strategy…
I was at a friend’s dinner party a few years ago. The guests were arriving and mingling with a glass of wine. I found myself introduced and chatting to a friend of the host Alex (name changed). Alex was articulate and attractive. I was happy to chat to him when he approached me. I’d set a New Year’s resolution earlier in the year to focus on being a better listener, and here was another chance to practice listening deeply!
However, this experience of listening to Alex made it quite apparent there was a complementary skill required. You see, Alex proceeded to completely talk my ear off for a good fifteen minutes. Then he cornered me again later to continue his talking and my listening. It went on, and on. I could have written Alex’s the biography after that. I had no skill at all to extricate myself. I had no conversational exit strategy.
Margaret Millar said
Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.
I don’t entirely agree with this, but it can be true on occasion!
At the farewell at the end of the night Alex raved, “it has just been so great to connect with you! I feel like we totally clicked. We must catch up soon.”
I did not “connect” with Alex. I did not “click” with Alex. And I wasn’t so keen to catch up soon.
How does this misalignment occur? What went wrong?
It’s easy to just blame Alex, but there are two sides here, and I needed to take some responsibility. I lacked awareness about how listening is a seriously powerful weapon, to be used carefully, and lacked the ability to make an assertive exit — I needed a conversational exit strategy.
Exit gracefully every time
Whatever the reason you wish to end a conversation, the art of the smooth exit is important. You can learn how to extricate yourself easily. Here’s a deconstruction of the approach I developed to save me in future situations.
The Smooth Exit Strategy Deconstructed
3 Steps — Setup, Validate, Go!
Start with body language. People will often pick up on cues related to exiting consciously or subconsciously. These cues might be changing the angle of your body and feet towards where you are going. Or maybe grabbing your bag or drink or any items you will be taking with you. Some people will notice the smallest of cues, and others you will be physically walking away and they still might not appear to notice.
It’s great to verbally validate the person and the interaction too. Ideally, wait until they pause (although sometimes you might have to interrupt. I think we all know interrupting is bad, but sometime impossible to avoid).
Tell them something you appreciated about them and/or the interaction. In the worst case a generic “nice to meet you” firmly delivered, but ideally validate on something interesting about the person or the conversation — “great talking to you about x”.
(Some people find this disingenuous, however without being to kumbaya I would argue it’s a really excellent opportunity to practice focusing on positive things. It’s not just the other person that will benefit from your positive comments — but the deliberate practice of gratitude — appreciating something positive, is known to increase your own happiness.)
You don’t have to give a reason for exiting the conversation. Really! Just do your setup, validate and go. That said, I’ve found over and over people often telling me they feel uncomfortable to just go without coming up with some fabricated reason. I don’t really advocate telling everyone you need to “go to the restroom.” (By all means, use it if you must), but just remember you are well within your rights to exit a conversation without a faked visit to the restroom! You can just say smile and say “bye!”
Give it a try. I’m still working on improving my exit skills, like all communication skills, they are a work in progress!
This three step setup-validate-go model is a good hack to help you remember how to make the smooth exit. Exiting is an often overlooked skill. Having smooth exiting skills means you can enter conversations and listen deeply without fear, backed by the confidence that you can exit smoothly whenever you want.