Back To Business: 6 Ways To Politely Decline When You Get Hit-On While Networking

IMG_6167Women of the business world: There’s a type of awkward male/female interaction in the network setting that has likely taken many of you by surprise, but rarely gets discussed with or addressed by your colleagues and supervisors. It can’t be categorized as sexual harassment, yet it’s not entirely appropriate to engage in, nor does it typically feel welcomed. I’m referring to the male-initiated suggestive inquiry, or in plainer language, getting hit-on. Has a man ever made an unexpected pass at you during a networking event? If your answer is “yes”, it turns out you’re not alone, as more women than I’d ever have imagined can lay claim to a similar experience.

SO, you find yourself in the midst of a suggestive pass from a businessman whom you had hoped to do business with. What happens next? Well, there are many forms this pass can take, and the answer can vary depending upon your individual experience, which can range from innocent to charming to downright creepy. Let me offer a few thoughts on the subject, designed to help ensure that you respond (not react) when the inevitable happens, and possibly even turn this awkward interaction around to work in your best business interest.

Heading Him Off At The Pass

If you find that you’re the type who gets hit-on often, consider a proactive approach in the business networking setting each time you engage with a man. During the ‘getting to know you’ part of the conversation, be sure to mention your kids, husband or boyfriend, and then ask about his family. This not only serves as an important news flash that will deter a prospective suitor, but you will be sharing personal commonalities to help you connect with this person in the future.


When a pass is initially made toward you, a couple of physical and mental breaths will seem perfectly natural from the man’s perspective, and will give you the opportunity to collect your thoughts before you respond. This can deter an amygdala hijack and prevent you from saying something you might regret later. As a matter of fact, Olivia Fox Cabane suggests that this kind of timing adds to your charisma, and serves to strengthen your business relationship with the person once the suggestive proposition is squashed.

Joke About It

Your rejection to the man’s pursuit doesn’t have to be so painfully dry. Arm yourself with the ultimate disarming weapon: Humor. When the moment arrives, you’ll be ready to respond off-the-cuff. “My husband may not be terribly cooperative here.” “Be forewarned that my boyfriend is an axe murderer.” Once again, the mere mention of your spouse can be an effective defuser.

The Soft Letdown

Sometimes an old high school standard can still work wonders in the adult business setting. “I’m flattered, but I’m spoken for” may just be the way to go, particularly if you can get a good read on the man, and you’re confident that he’s not aggressive in his pursuit. If you’re single but are still not interested, go with the firmer yet decidedly respectful “I’m so sorry, but I don’t mix business with pleasure.”

IMG_6254For The Aggressive Ones

If the flattery continues, consistently steering the conversation away from business, it might be time to puff yourself up like a territorial bird. You might hear something like “You’re the prettiest one in the room”. Your prompt and direct reply can be “And I’m the smartest and most qualified as well”. Such a sassy response communicates that you’re a strong woman, which can tame or even intimidate some men with macho facades.

On Keeping The Relationship Professional

Once you’ve averted the unwelcomed advances of the interested party, and you’ve managed to preserve the business end of the relationship, there are a few tips for moving forward warmly without inadvertently sending him the wrong message (i.e.: to not seem like you’re in compliance with his initial advances, or worse, seem like you’re hitting on him). For instance, when you plan a business meal with him, suggest a lunch meeting instead of dinner. Lunch is far less likely to be interpreted as a potentially romantic date. While you’re at it, make the reservations for 4 and invite some strategic colleagues. Does the company you work for employ the custom of baseball game tickets for courting clients? Use the same approach as with the lunch reservations and request some extra tickets so that other trusted colleagues can be present!

There’s a fine line between networking in a professional environment and building friendships. Since we women have traditionally been in the minority in the networking setting, it doesn’t mean we should be at a disadvantage. By creating your own mental boundaries before heading in, you’re prepared to maximize the experience and perhaps even take advantage of your unique position.