A good business network group is very like an elite social circle. It can open important doors, but also have them closed in our face. It provides opportunities to impress people of distinction, but also presents the risk of offending them, and perhaps even being removed from future invitation lists.
All the many books and lectures about networking are concentrated on encouraging involvement and getting closer – the strategies of joining these circles in the first place, and then the tactics of how to cultivate a good contact with a client or supplier.
However, the issue of how to exit politely from an encounter, seems rarely to be discussed, although this is the other half of the picture. You can’t have engagement without disengagement. You gain the attention of a particular person only when their last conversation has finished.
The people most aware of this are those somewhat over-ambitious networkers who set themselves targets like taking twenty business-cards home and securing six verbal commitments to talk further. I happen to think that their approach is rather too aggressive, and that the spirit of the ‘charm offensive’ may register unfavourably on a chosen target.
But there still does have to be some rationing of that 1-to-1 attention, quite apart from the delicate issue of how to disengage from the person who is clearly not going to be a useful contact – similar to finishing an unpromising interview with an early close.
Sometimes, there is a complete misunderstanding of a situation – as when a London advertising copy-writer once presented his portfolio to a foreign client whose English was not fluent. Only after half-an-hour did it become clear that the client thought the copy-writer was talking about the legal ‘copyrighting’ of the material. In this instance, there was clearly no point in continuing, and it was necessary to exit politely.
A usual routine is to invent an excuse to exit an unsatisfactory conversation – but then you might have to leave the meeting/party completely, and go home!
It is better to always remember that you are a guest at a social function, and that mixing with others is normal and essential. So, for example, your conversation with that distinguished contact need not strictly be 1-to-1. A third party, perhaps a shy or passive type, may be quite interested in hearing your conversation, and in any case, nothing you say at these functions should be entirely confidential. Also, the first impression you make is important and, if favourable, can gain you easy admittance to larger, more important groups in the room.
In fact, it is often worth approaching an individual or a group, already accompanied by someone you know. If the group is bigger than perhaps three or four, it is quite acceptable for you to listen respectfully for a minute or two, before slipping discreetly away.
It is always important to remember you’re a guest. This is an area where professionalism and good manners touch hands. By helping to initiate the mixing and introduction between people, you will be regarded as an asset by your hosts, and probably be asked back, maybe to an even more exclusive networking event, next time.
Key points about professional business networking
Ever had trouble exiting from a networking conversation?
Did you have to fake a pretext for saying good-bye? Or has someone else embarrassed you with an abrupt departure?
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[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]
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