Written by Tiffany Adams, CELI President. Click here for published article in Cincinnati Business Courier.
Reader’s Question: I’ve been struggling with keeping appointments to a reasonable time. I usually allot one hour for coffee meetings that stretch out much longer. It’s difficult to find a way to leave politely. When I arrive, should I announce a certain time I must leave? My schedule has been running away from me, making me late for appointments and less productive. Any practical tips for leaving a conversation without offending?
You are not alone as your concern plagues many considerate, friendly people in the business world. But it’s not so considerate when you arrive late to the following meeting.
It’s a tightrope walk between artfully balancing the need to manage time wisely versus the desire to be polite to those who are not ready to end conversations. Time is our most precious resource, so it’s worth searching for an exit strategy that comfortably works for you.
Understandably, society is inundated with advice about making favorable first impressions. However, leaving positive lasting impressions is equally consequential. Instead of legalistically setting a negative tone at the outset with a time warning of a hard stop, be present and fully engaged during the meeting. Offering your undivided attention paves the way for an amicable exit since the meeting has been so pleasant.
If your time is running short, experiment with these departing tips:
· Make future plans to reconnect
“Wow, the time has flown since we’ve been so engaged. Let’s continue this and get a date on the calendar soon, but for now, I better not keep my next appointment waiting.” (Caution: Suggest this tactic only if you intend to honor your word and follow-up.)
· Give permission to leave
“Selfishly, I could chat with you all afternoon, but I’m sure your schedule is tight so I will let you go.”
· End with positivity and a genuine compliment
“It’s so nice to see you. Thank you for being generous with your time. I can’t believe the hour is gone. Let’s not wait so long to reconnect.“
· Refocus and circle back to original meeting purpose
“Thank you for your help in brainstorming viable candidates for my open positions. I will reach out to them and let you know who applies. You have been a life-saver.“
· Catalyze the listener to mirror your body language
Close up your laptop, put away your notebook, throw away trash while smiling with sustained eye contact and full engagement. This heightens awareness that time is up and to emulate your actions.
· Avoid physical expressions of heightened anxiety
Fidgeting, watch glancing, phone checking, looking past someone, crossed arms, hand-wringing, and strained facial expressions all reveal nervous energy which leaves a distressful lasting impression.
· Preset a subtle ring tone
Program a soft and melodic ring tone (e.g. Harp) to sound five minutes before leaving. Jokingly remark, “The harp is my reminder to not be late to my next appointment and to be respectful of your time. I guess our day must continue to unfold, but I have really enjoyed our discussion.”
· Walk out together
This moves everyone in the desired direction, but also grants a few extra minutes to finalize open items and confirm deliverables.
Your personal exit strategy should be unique to you. Experiment, discover your sweet spot, and be consistent with applying it thereafter. Having a signature exit strategy puts an exclamation mark on your personal brand and reputation. Being respectful of others, adept at time management, and making smart choices about boosting your productivity are hallmarks of professionalism, which says a lot about you.