We’ve all experienced it.
We’ve all worried about starting up a one to one conversation at a party and coming across as weird or pushy. We’ve all fretted about walking up to someone and being rejected. We’ve all tried to keep a conversation going, only to find it sink like the Bismark, leaving you drowning with no lifeline.
Social situations can be painfully awkward. Too often they leave you feeling small, embarrassed, even dumb.
There are many reasons why you feel anxious at times like these:
- Fear of rejection.
- Worries that a situation will lead you to be singled out and embarrassed.
- Believing, often wrongly, that you are annoying or inconveniencing people.
However, you can learn not only to survive, but even to thrive in social encounters. You can learn to become comfortable in company, even if you weren’t born a social animal.
With a few simple proven hacks and a little social science you can save yourself from most awkward social situations. Here’s how…
1. Saying No Without Offending.
Sometimes you want, or have to, refuse a request or invitation from a friend or colleague, but saying no might hurt their feelings or offend them.
You can soften your refusal by giving a reason. Caldini in his famous book Influence, showed that people respond more positively if you provide a reason, even if the reason makes little sense:
“Hey Mark, thanks for thinking of me! Unfortunately I’m booked up for the next couple of months. Feel free to reach out again in [whatever time scale suits you – a couple of weeks or months] if you’re still interested and I’ll see about fitting it in. Cheers!”
You can soften the refusal even further by offering them an alternative option. Michael Roberto, a professor at Bryant University and the author of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer calls it ‘Extending them an olive branch’:
“I’d love to, but I’m really snowed under at the moment. Have you thought of checking out [resource/book/website/] – there’s some great stuff on there that might be what you’re looking for? Or maybe [work colleague/friend] can help you with that?”
2. Striking Up A Conversation Without Being Pushy.
At a social event you often want to start a one on one conversation but are worried about appearing too forward, especially if it is with someone of the opposite sex.
A fail-safe opener will allow you to break the ice:
“Hi, my name’s John…”
“Hi, great conference.”
You can continue the conversation in an approachable, non-threatening way by following up with an easy, open-ended question:
“Hi, my name’s John, what’s yours?”
“Hi, great conference. How’s it going for you?”
3. Mastering The Knack Of Small Talk.
Having started the conversation, the art of keeping it flowing naturally can be easily achieved with several simple methods:
Start off with a safe, topic you have in common – for instance how you came to be at that event, how you know the host, or something about the surroundings:
“How do you know [host’s name]?”
“What a great venue, it’s new to me. How did you find out about it?”
Listen carefully and repeat back key phrases as questions to keep the conversation going:
“Oh, so you met [host’s name] at college?” What did you major in?”
“So it’s not your first time here. Was it a similar sort of event you came to last time?”
4. Saying Goodbye The Easy Way.
Now you can start and keep a conversation going, you need to be able to end it without appearing brusque or bored.
When the time is up, give a warm but definite explanation as to why you need to leave:
“Hey [name], I hate to leave but I really have to go now, I promised to [explanation].”
Add in a compliment or good wishes for something that they have told you about:
“It’s been great chatting, good luck with [x]”
“…good wishes for the future.”
5. Recovering From Forgetting Their Name
Forgetting someone’s name is something most of us have experienced and something that often causes the most stress in social situations.
Instead of nervously trying to remember and hoping you won’t have to introduce them to anyone else, be sincere and upfront straight away and own up:
- Apologize for having a totally blank moment.
- Don’t make it a big deal – if you play it down, so will they.
“Hey, I’m really sorry. I’ve forgotten your name, I have the worst memory for names.”
“Hey, apologies. I have a problem hanging on to names and yours has just slipped my mind for a moment.”
“Ever have a blank moment? My memory is a shocker for names and I have to confess yours has escaped me for a second.”
6. Giving A Compliment Like A Pro.
Receiving a compliment often leaves you squirming in embarrassment, while giving one can be just as awkward.
A simple statement of how something you admire or appreciate in someone else or how something they did has benefited or inspired you is the best form of compliment:
“Hey Sam, I really admire how you are always so positive, even when things go wrong.”
“Can I just say that was awesome, the way you just… [whatever they wowed you with]”.
“You know, you made today great by… [whatever they did to brighten your world]”.
Precede it with a short explanation of why you are paying this compliment:
“Hey [name], I’ve known you for a while now and I’ve got to tell you [compliment].”
“Just in case no one’s said it lately, I’ve got to tell you [compliment].”
“You totally made my day today, I’ve got to say thank you for [compliment].”
7. Disagreeing Or Complaining Without Sounding Like A Jerk.
Most of us are programmed to avoid conflict but sometimes you just have to speak up.
Start with the smallest grain of common ground you can find in your opposing views. Show that you respect their view even though yours may differ:
“Hey, I appreciate what you’re saying about [x], you have a point there.”
“It’s great to share views, isn’t it. I can see where you’re coming from, absolutely.”
Calmly, logically and rationally explain your standpoint:
“However, I’m sure you agree that [x] needs to be fit for the purpose it was bought for?”
“I wonder though could there be another way to look at this? What I see is [explanation of your standpoint]”.
“I guess we’ve had different, but equally valid experiences. In my case [explanation of your experience].”
8. Speaking Up In A Group With Confidence.
One of the most nerve-wracking social situations is overcoming your initial reluctance and making your voice heard.
Boost your confidence by starting off with a short audible agreement for someone else’s contribution:
“Hey, I’ve got to say I totally agree with [name]. Well said.”
“That’s a great point. I definitely agree.”
Forget trying to be clever or impress, be succinct. You’ll be most impressive by being yourself:
“I have an idea, might be worth sharing…”
“There’s been some great ideas offered here. I’ve a quick one to add…”
“I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, this is just observation but could be useful…”
9. Brushing Someone Off Without Seeming Rude.
Sometimes you simply don’t want to talk to someone because you either don’t like them of you’re simply too busy.
A warm smile and a positive greeting will allow you to take control of the conversation:
“Hey Mary, great to see you.”
“Hi John, haven’t seen you in a while. You’re looking great.”
Mention immediately that you would love to chat but you are pushed for time:
“I’d love to stop and chat but I’m pushed for time.”
“Please don’t think me rude but I promised to be somewhere and I’m running late.”
“This is such bad timing, I should have been somewhere twenty minutes ago.”
Leave them with an upbeat goodbye message:
“Take care and we’ll catch up later.”
“Have a great rest of day. Hope to bump into you again when I’m not chasing my tail.”
“Sorry I’m rushing. Good to see you looking so well.”
10. Talking To People Who Intimidate You.
Remember most intimidating people are way less confident than they seem – bullish tones are often cultivated to hide a lack of self-assurance.
If you are going to shake hands, put yours out first and grasp theirs firmly, but don’t over do it. Seize the conversation from the start with a topic you are most confident in, don’t let them dictate it:
“Hey, you know, I had a great result with [recent success]It’s really made the week. [expand].”
“Have you tried [author, activity, exercise regime, food]. I’ve just gotten into it and, what a difference it’s made.”
“I’d love to share a great experience I had last week. It might surprise you…”
Similarly end the conversation early, stay in control:
“It was great talking to you [name]. I’ve got to get going. See you around.”
“Thanks for that, really enjoyed it. Excuse me, have to be on my way.”
“Interesting chat. Looking forward to the next one, hopefully soon. Bye for now.”
Bio: Laura Tong is on a mission to help you boost your confidence and self-esteem. Download her free cheat sheet: 5 Guilt Free Ways To Say No Without Offending Anyone (Even If You Hate Conflict)