Whether you are an introvert who prefers to scope out the scene before mixing with others or you suffer from shyness or social anxiety, these strategies from The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. (Workman Publishing, 2002) can help you navigate events that leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Socializing Tips for When You Arrive
By planning how to socialize with others when you arrive at a party or gathering, you can feel more comfortable knowing that you are moving at your own pace. Know and accept that you will feel tense as you approach the door. Avoid feeling tense about feeling tense. Be sure to greet your host or hostess. If they want to thrust you into the group, ask for a moment to catch your breath or head to the bathroom to give yourself some time.
As you enter the room, select a spot where you can stand and scan the room and get a sense of the activity flow. Look around for someone you know, a group that you could join, or even someone else who is watching from the sidelines. Decide whether you’d feel more comfortable spending time with people you know or whether you want to use this as an opportunity to meet new people.
Social Skills and Tactics for Surviving Parties, Conferences, and other Occasions
Laney refers to the “sea anemone” tactic, finding an out-of-the-way location where you can watch the event without being in the middle of the throng. Chances are that others who are feeling overwhelmed will also find this spot and before you know it, you’ll be within a small, friendly gathering.
Also, act “as if” you feel comfortable, using social skills that you do possess, such as listening and asking others questions. Another option is to have a prop such as in interesting necklace, tie, watch, hat, etc. that will get attention and provide a starting point for conversations.
When talking to others make eye contact (look at them while they are talking but glance away while you’re speaking so you don’t seem like you’re staring) and practice giving a subtle smile. Other nonverbal cues, such as raising your eyebrows, blinking, widening your eyes, can also encourage others to continue speaking without forcing you to speak and risk tripping over your tongue. It isn’t necessary to create a steady stream on nonverbal messages or you may look like you are having a seizure.
How to Socialize with Small Talk
Small talk, as described by Laney, consists of four phrases: openers, sustainers, transitions, and closers.
Openers are open-ended questions that encourage others to talk with you. If you are trying to join a conversation in progress, ask a question based on what you’ve overheard. Openers include asking a person how they know the host or commenting on the surroundings or the food.
Sustainer questions ask a person for more information, “How long have you worked for Acme?” “Have you seen that movie?” Transition questions steer the conversation to a topic that was mentioned briefly, “You said that you just returned from Jamaica. What was your favorite part of the island?” This may be the point when you realize the conversation can end.
Although closing a conversation may feel awkward, remember that small talk isn’t supposed to be an in-depth conversation. It’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself to get a drink, get food, head to the bathroom, or speak with someone you see across the room. If someone excuses themselves, end with, “It was nice talking to you.”
Social skills require practice don’t expect an instant behavior transformation. Give yourself permission to take a breather in another room, step outside and take a short walk, or leave earlier than you thought you would. Offer yourself compassionate, encouraging thoughts instead or berating yourself during an event, which will just make you freeze and feel uncomfortable. Next time can be better.