Yes, I’m a social dummy. I’ve apparently been one all my life but had it confused with social anxiety, so I forced myself to plow ahead making the same mistakes in social settings time after time, leaving me feeling bad about myself without understanding what had happened. Fortunately self-awareness has grown keener as I’ve aged, leading me to the place finally where I have developed a strategy for not only having a relaxed experience in social situations, but also walking away feeling good about myself.
If you find yourself dreading social events, but feel like you’re missing out on a fun and important part of living if you avoid them, my tips may be just what you need to break old social habits that aren’t working for you, and learn some new effective techniques:
- Old way to start a conversation: I’d have some topics of conversation prepared before the gathering. Approach people and start talking about your subjects. This works for a limited time, but I soon found people would just walk away from me, leaving me blabbing by myself.
- New way to start a conversation: I wait quietly until someone comes near me or approaches me. I let them start the conversation, or I comment on something in the moment, like complimenting their outfit or making an observation of the room. I found natural conversations evolve from this approach, and no one walked away.
1. Old way to chit-chat with someone you don’t know well that you are sitting with: I felt afraid to sit silently in a social setting because I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’d panic at the thought of being at an event and having no one to talk to, and walking away feeling lonely and rejected. So if a person I was sitting with was not a big talker who would take over the conversation, I’d pepper them with questions. This can get very uncomfortable after asking questions for several minutes when the other person simply answers the question without asking anything back. I would foolishly keep on asking until one of us left.
2. New way to chit-chat with someone you don’t know well that you are sitting with: I ask a question or two, and if they don’t ask me questions, I just sit silently, and I find it is OK. I focus on my breathing, and sit there until someone else joins the table, or I leave the table. In other words, I relax and don’t let my fear of being alone get me into an uncomfortable conversation.
- Old way of reading social cues: being an extrovert, I enjoy talking about myself, and I found I would mistakenly think a certain type of person wanted to hear all about me when they simply ask how I am. When they would walk away from me, I’d realize I gave way too much information and misread them. Becoming aware of this about myself was transformative.
- New way of reading social cues: I recognize now that just because someone seems to be very nice, has maybe known me all my life, and seems to ask me sincerely how I am, they most likely do not want to know everything about me. I can now recognize the situation, give them a simple friendly answer, and wait to talk about deeper issues when, or if, they ask specifically about them.
Simply put, if you find yourself standing or sitting alone, don’t panic and overcompensate. Ask yourself, “what would a relaxed person do?” Take some deep breaths. Keep yourself sober, but relaxed, having a drink or two at the most. You will find, as I did, that by letting go of the need to control conversations, the most amazing talks with unexpected people develop. It will leave you feeling calm, confident, and relaxed, which allows humor and genuine connections between people to happen. Now that’s the way to enjoy a party!