Last week, I wrote a piece on how to gracefully exit a conversation. You’ve no doubt been in these situations at networking events where you’d like to break away, but there’s no obvious way to do so. There’s the bathroom and the bar, but if your drink is full, or you started talking to the person after coming out of the bathroom, those aren’t options.
There are all sorts of techniques people use, and even a whole genre of comedy about this. But there’s also a counter-intuitive approach that I’ve been trying lately. I find it’s making me enjoy such events much more.
The approach? Don’t plot my escape route. Relax and roll with it. No conversation lasts forever, and there’s a lot to be gained from letting go of expectations and focusing, fully, on the person in front of me.
Sure, I might like to make my way to the food on offer, but I’ve eaten before and I will again. My life doesn’t lack for opportunities for wine. I can chat with or without a glass. As for needing to meet people? I should probably figure out who will be attending an event and come up with surefire ways to say hello. If I’m going to a conference, I make plans beforehand for dinners, coffees, lunches, sharing a hotel room. If I know I will talk with the people I want to talk with, then the stakes of any given event are lower. I can let serendipity work its magic.
If the other person wants to end the conversation, that’s fine. I can take a hint! But if someone is eager to share the details of her life, rolling with it gives me the opportunity to practice the fine art of small talk. I practice describing what I do and I see how people react, but I also try to talk less. Asking other people questions is the best approach for an introvert in any case. If nothing else, the results might be entertaining. Think about the reasons conversations are awkward. I might see the interaction of two people who’ve met before and it didn’t go well, but they’re both trying to behave themselves. Fascinating! I might learn something I didn’t know before. That something might be immediately relevant (the name of a good restaurant, or an interesting website) or it might not be at all (the arcane details of health policy — fascinating to some but not my thing). In any case, I might learn new tidbits that I could use in other conversations.
There are many situations in life where one benefits by forgetting the escape route. Long hours with small children might be one. If you’ve got a babysitter coming later in the day, great. But if not? You don’t gain much by looking at the clock, counting the hours until nap time. Dwell in the moment. When there’s no way out, then you go full in. And full in is often a happier way to be.
In other news: I’ll be hosting a Twitter chat next week Wednesday (the 27th) at noon, Eastern time. Just use the hashtag #IKnowHowSheDoesIt with your questions on time management, work, and life. There will also be an opportunity to register for a random drawing of a “Laura Vanderkam bundle” of my previous books.
In other, other news: I’m featured in the June issue of More magazine, now on news stands. You can see what photo they selected from my 4-hour photo shoot!
If you like my blog, you might also like my next book, I Know How She Does It. Pre-order by June 2 and you can join my book club with perks including an autographed book plate, advanced excerpts, and access to two webinars around launch. Pre-orders help authors by showing the bookselling community that there is interest in a book. Thanks for reading!
Photo: Gratuitous baby shot. Somebody weighed 16lbs 7oz at his 4-month appointment!