There's one in every crowd – that gossip you know is going to lean close and whisper something. Or maybe it is your neighbor who always has way too much time on his hands. If you let him get started, he'll never stop. Your mother raised you to be polite. You don't want to turn and flee the moment you see these people approaching you. By the same token, your time is precious, and you don't want to waste it on them. What to do?
Cellphones don't actually have to ring these days – many people set theirs to vibrate instead. The person you want to avoid doesn't have to know that your phone isn't really tickling you. Take it out, put it to your ear and begin an imaginary conversation. This works best if you have a flair for acting, but if you don't, you can keep your dialogue short and succinct. A "yes," "no," or "maybe" should convince others that there's someone on the other end of the line. You can shrug apologetically or shake your head, backing off at the same time. Make sure your phone really is set to vibrate. Otherwise, it may begin belting out your favorite ringtone in the middle of your make-believe conversation.
Your iPod can be another technological lifesaver. If you know you are entering a danger zone -- trying to get to your car while your neighbor is outside watching and waiting for his half hour of chat -- pop in the ear buds. Keep your gaze averted as well. This discourages conversation. If the person you want to avoid has any sensitivity at all, he'll leave you alone. If sensitivity isn't his strong suit, smile vacantly and keep moving toward your target, any target. If you don't have one, make one up on the fly. If you are in the checkout line at the grocery store, close your eyes, sway and commune with the music. He'll get the idea.
Know Your Plan
If you find yourself cornered, your challenge becomes cutting the conversation short. You'll have to talk – there is no way around it – but you obviously don't want to devote untold minutes to the process. Take the initiative. Start the conversation yourself rather than waiting like prey. The sooner you succumb, the sooner your ordeal will be behind you. A quick, "Hey, how are you?" while you glance at your watch might work, but this invites a response, something you probably don't want. Instead, try, "I'd lose my head if it weren't attached. I think I left my keys/purse/wallet/important file in the restroom. Excuse me." Then stride away. Fast.
Don't Make Things Worse
You might feel desperate in your need to escape, but resist the temptation to make promises you won't keep. For example, don't say you are in a hurry right now, but you'll be in touch. You won't. Remember that other thing your mother always taught you – honesty is the best policy. A simple, "I'm sorry, I really can't talk right now," gets your message across. There's no need to embellish and mention that you really can't talk, ever.
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