Socialising tips for socially awkward situations

It’s getting to that time of year when you may be socialising more than usual with people you hardly know. Here is how to break the ice.

The invitations to end-of-year social events and functions are starting to pile up.

Perhaps you’ve been invited to a partner’s work celebrations and, while you’re keen to show your support, you only know a handful of people.

Or perhaps new friends from your children’s school or soccer club have invited you to a get-together and, once again, you’ll be walking into a room full of near strangers.

If these scenarios fill you with dread, you’re not alone – around 1 in 10 Australians experience social anxiety in certain situations, including when they are meeting new people or have to talk to others at parties.

Why is socialising with new people difficult?

“When you have to go to a work or social event with people you don’t know well or at all, there is an overwhelming fear of approaching someone and being rejected,” organisational psychologist Dr Amantha Imber says.

“At a work event, we may also feel a pressure to ‘perform’; there may be an expectation to form new connections or to make an impression on potential new customers, and this can leave people feeling quite overwhelmed.”

If socialising with strangers is on the cards this holiday season, there are steps you can take to remove some of the fear and to help conversations flow – you may even start to enjoy yourself!

Expert tips for socialising at any social gathering

Keep things in perspective

This is just one event in hundreds of events you’ll attend during your lifetime, Dr Imber says.

What’s the worst that can happen? You sit down and have nobody to talk to.

“Flip that around and ask yourself what’s the best that could happen – change your mindset from fear to opportunity,” Dr Imber suggests.

Ask compelling questions

“Prep some questions,” advises relationship coach Samantha Jayne.

For example, she says, ask people what their job involves and what they enjoy about their work.

“Then widen the conversation and ask about their interests, how they like to spend their weekend and whether they’ve travelled anywhere interesting lately,” Samantha suggests.

Don’t rush to fill a silence

“People talk about ‘awkward’ silences but short silences are a normal part of conversation, so don’t feel uncomfortable,” Samantha says.

If you feel the silence is lasting too long, ask another prepped question to get the conversation going again.

Find the odd number

If you walk into a room solo and don’t recognise a familiar face, look for clusters of people with an odd number.

“A Yale University professor who specialised in social networks once told me that when you see an ocean of people, remember that they’ll be in clusters or islands,” Dr Imber says.

“Look for the clusters with an odd number of people because humans naturally communicate in groups of two – so, one of those people in the odd-numbered cluster is on the outer and will appreciate you joining the group to even things out.”

Move on if you have to

Sometimes, people won’t be friendly and welcoming, and they might be abrupt or distant.

“Don’t wonder what you’ve said or done wrong, realise that they might have stuff going on in their life that is making them behave that way,” Samantha says.

“Remove yourself by saying it was nice to meet them and find someone else who is more open to conversation.”

More on social awkwardness and how to overcome it:

Written by Sarah Marinos.