How to (politely) get out of meetings that you don't want to be in.

Oct 30, 2016 by Brendan Jack

Perhaps there’s a call of the wild for an unexpected bathroom break, perhaps you’ve just had enough of the meeting you’re in. Maybe you’ve been cornered by a bore at a networking event, but don’t want to offend them. How do you excuse yourself without creating a stir? What’s your exit strategy?

Elvis has left the building

Watch your body language. You may already have left the room with your mind, staring out the door or window, plotting your escape route while someone is still engaging with you. Give them your full attention until the time is right to make your move.

Plan ahead

If you know that you’re going to duck out early, sit close to the boardroom door. This avoids awkwardly getting up next to the boss at the head of the table and walking the entire length of the boardroom, asking people to please move their chairs to let you through. Be stealthy like Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne, and less like Mr Bean.

Fake phone call

An oldie, but a goodie. Glancing at your phone as if it’s silent ringing, or like you've just received an urgent message. Add a look of intrigue or concern to your face and leave with “I just need to quickly sort this out. Please continue without me.”

Less is more

If you do need the bathroom, you don’t necessarily have to tell anyone. It’s not 2nd grade, where you need permission from the teacher. Same with wanting to pop off to the canteen for a pie to stop your stomach from rumbling, or to the dry cleaner.

Sometimes less information is better. “Please excuse me” and a follow up later is all that’s needed.

No need to get into a convoluted personal story about your bodily needs, especially in front of a room full of colleagues. On the other hand, “Do you know where the toilets are?” while looking a little wide-eyed and desperate is a solid way to make your short walk to freedom.

Conflicting schedule

If you can, blame your schedule. You’ve been double-booked on meetings and need to sort it out. Honesty is obviously best, but how do they know there’s not really someone at reception to see you?

Networking

If you’re one-on-one, give the interaction a definite ending. A handshake, a look in the eye and a “good to see you” as you purposefully exit the scene, offering no gaps for extending the conversation. Set up a meeting for another time, as if to say that you value their time and would like to continue engaging, but when you have proper time to do so.

If you’re cornered at an event, try to introduce the non-stop talker to someone else you know in the room. Networking is also about connecting other people. If you can find a common point of interest between the people, similar industries or hobbies, then get them started on that. As soon as you’ve introduced them, give them an “excuse me for a minute” and briskly leave the situation, looking like you’ve got a meeting to attend at the UN, or even a bar mitzvah.

If you’re the boss, strip down into your cycling outfit during the meeting and wheel your bike out the office. You’re the head of the place, and can damn-well go for a cycle any time you feel like it.

Summing up

Don’t underestimate the conciseness of “excuse me” as you leave a room. It avoids over-explaining and leading you into a tangled web of excuses. It perhaps even provides you with an air of mystery and importance (in your mind at least). Suss the room or situation, perhaps you’ll have to ride it out if leaving doesn’t seem right.

Get creative with your exit strategies, but keep them simple. When escaping from people, always show them some respect. Leave in a polite, graceful and stealthy way.

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