There's no need to panic when plunged into a new social setting.
Most of us will know that sweaty-palmed, heart racing, word vomit panic that comes over you in the midst of a daunting social sitch. It could be meeting all of your other half ‘s friends for the first time or something as simple as getting stuck having a conversation with a new colleague in the office kitchen and fearing that they’re judging your every word. Social awkwardness might rear its head when you’re mid-sentence and worried that your punchline won’t deliver the way you intended it, or when you’re with a big group of people and too frightened to speak up.
Sometimes we might even drink too much to take the edge off, or babble uncontrollably about the weather to nix any uncomfortable silences. But being plunged into a new and unusual social setting doesn’t need to send you into a blind panic…
Communicating confidently starts before you’ve even opened your mouth. Mark Rhodes, author of How To Talk To Absolutely Anyone, writes that when you’re surrounded by a group of people you don’t know, it’s important to own your environment. “Make them aware that you are open to communication and that you are not somebody who is just going to sit quietly in the corner.” How do you do that? Easy. By taking up more space.
“Standing a little wider, perhaps with your legs a bit farther apart or having your hands on your hips,” he writes. “Also doing things like stretching – stretching your body; stretching your arms and similar movements to make it seem like you are just flexing and loosening up – encourages people to notice you… It’s sort of being seen but not heard in an unobtrusive way.” Assuming Beyoncé’s power pose in 3, 2…
Hesitation kills spontaneity so when the urge to say hi to that cute guy at the bar or compliment that girl on her top at the gym crops up, it can be all too easy to force it back down. Time to unleash the five second rule. No, not the one you use when you drop your toast on the floor. This one basically says that if you wait longer than five seconds you’ll talk yourself out of a decision,
so count yourself in and just go for it.
If you do chicken out, you have one more chance. Rhodes notes that one of the most natural moments to engage with someone, aside from when you first move into their physical space, is when you’re responding to an event. “If somebody drops something on the floor near you, you could react to it and make a connection with someone else nearby with: ‘Glad that wasn’t me. That’s the sort of thing I do.’”
Always dreading the awkward silence? David Morin, creator of multi-media platform SocialPro which aims to help people be more socially confident, recommends something he’s coined ‘conversational threading’ for when your chat naturally hits a wall.
He points out that no conversation needs to be linear – you can jump back and forth from different topics at will – so when the current thing you’re talking about dies out, it’s perfectly okay to jump back to something you discussed before. You automatically do it with loved ones, so get comfortable practicing it with friends and you’ll be able to do it with strangers.
Here’s the thing about anxiety: when you focus on feeling nervous, you inevitably feel more nervous. Morin’s advice is to take that nervous energy and turn it into a healthy curiosity. Get really interested in what the person is saying and ask plenty of questions. It’ll take the pressure off you, ease your nerves and keep the conversation flowing. And remember, the onus isn’t all on you.
One out of three people has had social anxiety at some point in their lives, and nine out of ten feel nervous talking to a stranger. When you realise that pretty much everyone feels a degree of nervousness, it takes the pressure off and allows you to feel more comfortable. You might be nervous, but chances are, so is the person you are talking to.