Feeling Socially Awkward?

The holidays are upon us, which means parties, gatherings, and other social events. Have you noticed that some people seems to thrive with all the festivities, while others (and this may include you!) shrink away in repulsion at the idea of having to show up and mingle?

In a recent session with a client, we discussed this very subject: how to get through the holidays and keep both sanity and congenial relationships with family members and co-workers.

There are a number of reasons why you may wilt at the thought of yet another social engagement during the holidays:

  • You dislike small talk. Who cares what brand of diapers works best for cousin Nelly’s newborn?
  • You have nothing to contribute to the conversation. You have had plenty to occupy your pretty little head other than who was the linebacker of the winning team in last year’s Super Bowl.
  • Too many volatile topics are brought up. Keeping your political opinions to yourself has averted many an argument with Uncle Bill over the years.
  • No one seems to care what is going on in your life. They are much too busy talking about themselves or checking their phone for messages.
  • There are too many people and you don’t feel you really get to have a deep conversation with anyone. Just when you are about to reveal a meaningful sentiment to your auntie, someone comes along and wants to show off their new holiday decoration earrings they made at the Senior Center.

The list could probably go on from here. But you get the idea. And you may even have your own reasons for wanting to turn down the invitations.

Reasons for Parties

If this speaks to you, I have a couple of thoughts to share with you. First, we have to look at the fact that there are many reasons for social gatherings.

Sometimes you want to connect with people and share your intimate feelings and deep thoughts or concerns. That is usually something you would schedule with one or two close friends.

Some social events are of a moderate size – say 8-10 people – designed to share a meal, play games, generate laughter, and catch up a bit on each others’ lives.

Larger holiday gatherings, which would include the company party or the extended family feasts, are generally a celebration such as a holiday, wedding, or birthday. The purpose is to simply be there, show support, and be the social butterfly. It is not designed for people to get bogged down in detailed and extended conversations. The purpose is to reconnect and share in the celebration.

It seems that when we go to a large event expecting to engage in a deep heart-felt conversation or convert others to our way of thinking, we are setting ourselves up for a disappointment. If you want a deeper conversation with someone you run into at the larger party, invite them over for dinner, or arrange to meet for lunch where you can have the opportunity to really share.

Tackling the large gathering

Walking into a sea of people where you will mix and mingle, meet new people, and run into those you know (for better or worse), are the hardest for most people. Especially in this era where most of our communications are done by email and phone. Meeting face to face and having to stand there, sometimes bored and sometimes feeling out of place, can be intimidating.

Suggestions to make it flow easier

  1. Arm yourself with three topics that you can bring up during the event: an interesting fact about the holiday or celebration, something new and interesting you have recently learned, a short comment about somewhere you have recently visited or a milestone you have accomplished. Stay away from gossip, politics, religion, or trying to convert someone to your point of view.
  2. Think of five people who will be there, and make it a point to approach each with a specific topic in mind that you want to speak with them about. Keep the topic about them: How is your daughter doing in school? When did you say you were leaving for Europe? How are you doing since your surgery? Can you give me the recipe for that delicious dessert? Didn’t you say your son is in a play? When will your brother get his leave from the military?
  3. Stay curious about the other person. Most everyone likes to talk about themselves, and if you show interest, they will blossom and love you. Just like you would love it if someone would show that much interest in you. But don’t hold out for them to do that. So many people I run into don’t reciprocate the attention. That’s OK. I learn more about them, and I already know about me. So I win either way.
  4. Before you go to the event, tell yourself wonderful things about yourself. If you spend the afternoon grumbling about having to go, and convincing yourself that it will be a miserable evening with obnoxious people, you will likely grant yourself that wish and have that experience. Instead, look yourself in the mirror and admire how nice you look (be sure you are well-groomed and wearing something you feel really good in), fill in your aura with grounded energy and substance. Feel planted on the ground. Smile (it sends wonderful chemicals through your body that make you feel even better). Relax and know that if you are focused on making others feel good about themselves, they will love you even more, and you will feel even better about yourself!
  5. Compliment the person you are talking with. “Granny, I love that purple hair on you!” or “Little Janey, your purple highlights really bring out your eyes!” Find a piece of jewelry, their new sweater, or some other feature or accessory that you can comment on. Flattery, when sincere and believable, will endear you to your companion.

Remember, you are probably not the only person in the room who is feeling awkward and out of place. Keeping the focus on others will make them feel more relaxed and included, and will give you something better to do than to fret over yet another uncomfortable social experience.

Now, go out and have some fun!