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A workshop participant once asked me how she should handle being dismissed shortly after an initial networking conversation had begun.  Business cards had been exchanged, but the other person no longer seemed interested in talking.

Has this ever happened to you?

My first inclination was to ask for more details about what happened. Because, honestly, this kind of thing can happen in social settings — and for any number of reasons. The best way to handle it is to first go back and review the facts.

Here are a few possible scenarios:

The Speed Networker.  In any networking arena you may run into this character. This go-getter works a crowd quickly and sees meeting people as a numbers game. For them, it’s all about quantity, not quality. They introduce themselves, make a little small talk, shove a card into your hand, then move along.  If this is what happened, don’t take it personally. You can laugh about it later with others, like you, who know not to do this.

The I Spy Game. Perhaps the Dismisser looked over your shoulder and saw someone else with whom they wanted to talk. This seems rude, but it’s a networking reality. Part of the value of attending an event is the opportunity to say hello to people we know or do business with. If this is the case, the Dismisser should do the right thing and at least say something like, “It’s been nice chatting with you ─ even for just a few moments. But I see someone I really need to talk to. I hope you’ll excuse me.” This feels a lot better than being given an abrupt brush-off.  Even if you didn’t get a gracious good-bye, the best thing you can do is forget about it and find another person to talk to.

The Fizzler. You knew we’d come to this one. What if…the Dismisser was simply feeling like the conversation had come to an…end?  Were there any awkward silences? Was the conversation feeling stale or weird?  Had you run out of things to talk about? It’s worth reflecting on what role we play in every conversation and what we might have done to keep the visit engaging. That said, I advise my clients to create and build a collection of conversation-generating questions to have top of mind. Being appropriately curious and then listening attentively are two basic secrets to starting and expanding good conversations.  And yet…some conversations just…fizzle…out.  The energy, chemistry, and allure are missing, Learn from the experience, try to do better next time, and accept the fact that not everyone will be a dazzling conversation partner.

The Big Interruption.  What if the person you were talking to was already in a conversation ─ and you interrupted?  If it was a group of three or more people talking, you’re in the clear. But social etiquette experts advise us not to interrupt one-on-one conversations.  Reason being, the discussion could be private, personal, or serious. And your well-meaning interruption may not be welcomed.

Drainers & Downers.  It’s worth noting that some conversations are not going to take hold, especially if those involved are guilty of any of these faux pas.  Among the habits that make me want to flee a conversation are: over-talkers who drone on and hijack all exchanges; under-talkers who can’t uphold their side of a basic exchange; people who think networking is all about making a sale; individuals soaked in negativity or doom-and-gloom; and those with BIG opinions on complex or controversial topics.  Also, I’m not a fan of discussing things that are trivial, overly personal, gossipy, or gross.  (Whew! That felt good to get those out on the table.)

Now it’s your turn. What else could cause a conversation to end before it gains momentum?  How do you handle being dismissed? When have you wanted to make a quick (or gracious) escape?  This seems like it could be a lively virtual discussion or workshop unto itself!  Who’s in?


Want to learn more?  Whether you or someone you know struggles to keep conversations going or simply wants to confidently engage in conversations that are more interesting, energizing, and enjoyable, my new book More Than Just Talk: The Essential Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Enjoy Better Conversations is filled with strategies, stories, and tactics that can help. It’s available from major online book retailers and at BookPeople in Austin.  And it’s less than  the cost of your average networking event.