I don’t know how many people are excited about networking. It’s one of those activities you know you have to do, but spending an afternoon making small talk with other people as anxious as you, isn’t high on anyone’s to-do list. And yes, I know there’s a subset of people who love networking, they can cruise a room like experts, but this is a small subset, very small. Kudos to you if you’re one of them.

Back to the rest of us.

The key tips for networking are:

Arrive early or at least on-time
Don’t oversell or dominate conversations
Enter and leave conversations respectfully
Stay away from hot topics – this list seems to be growing, but mainly politics and religion.
The question I was asked recently, is “what do I do when a heated conversation comes up around politics?”. Political conversations can become very polarized, I don’t want to name names or political parties, but people seem to either feel very passionate about one extreme or another. I’ve never quite seen conversations be quite so divisive, but they are now more than ever.

Here’s my best advice:

1. Before trying to turn the conversation around, decide if this is a conversation you want to stay a part of. Who is taking part in the conversation? Were you trying to connect with them, or did you end up in this conversation group?

2. Nodding silently often gives the impression that you are agreeing with the conversation and can lead to you being asked a direct question, that you may or may not want to answer. Decide whether this is a conversation worth staying in if not, find a way to excuse yourself. I hate to say it but faking a call works here, spend a couple of minutes away while taking your “call” and then join another conversation.

3. If there are people in the conversation group worth connecting with, and you don’t want to leave, then try to gauge how many people are actually engaging in the conversation or is there one dominant voice. A quick look at your companions will gauge if they’re all feeling as awkward as you, or if they’re interested in where the conversation is going. If I was in this situation, and someone beside me was equally looking awkward, I’d suggested getting a fresh cup of coffee.

4. You can attempt to steer the conversation in another direction. Travel is one of my favorites here because it can take you so many places. An example scenario is to find a geographical reference within the political conversation. For example, if there’s a reference to a political rally in Dallas that everyone is talking about, then I may ask who’s been to Dallas, that I was planning a trip there, ask for tips for good restaurants. You may find a simple conversation shift is enough to get everyone talking about the best place for a “home-cooked” meal when you’re traveling. Just be prepared to keep the conversation going.

5. Lastly, it’s ok to agree to disagree. If someone asks you a direct question about a hot topic, it’s ok to decline, do so respectfully. Be honest and say that you try to keep politics out of business, and then add a leading question about them. An example would be to say “Politics is a conversation I like to steer clear of, I like hearing everyone’s point of view, but what I’m more interested in hearing more about your (insert business initiative here), what are the next steps?”

In saying all of this, it’s worthwhile to note that there are a lot of hot topics that should be avoided in social situations. Always remember that if you’re feeling uncomfortable where a conversation is going, then someone else in the conversation likely is as well. Be a good conversation neighbor and be aware of others who may be offended in the conversation, or isolated by it. Try and turn the conversation around or excuse yourself.

What are your tips for avoiding difficult conversations? Have you encountered a situation you couldn’t get out of politely?

By Peggy Murrah, Founder of PMA Web Services

Author's Bio: 

Peggy Murrah is a unique combination of web and marketing savvy, along with dependability and resourcefulness. These qualities have been instrumental in her building a successful business that serves clientele across five continents. PMA Web Services provides marketing direction and strategies for entrepreneurs through mentoring, social media marketing, list building and management, and development/maintenance of their online presence.