Like many introverts, I really, really despise small talk. To me it is pointless and artificial and a strain. There are many events that I can hear about a few months in advance and think, oh yes that’s something I should attend. It can be a function of my local alumni club, a public seminar about something new I’m doing at work, or maybe a good quality Bible study class. But there’s one thing that keeps me away from those things just about 100% of the time: the unstructured “social hour” before the event. Apparently most other people love that time! It gives them a chance to chitchat with others they know or may not know! They can “work the room” and energize themselves as well as make contacts which may serve them in their career or other areas in the future. For me, depending on the size of the crowd, it can at worst be a time of standing and feeling foolish, taking frequent sips of my drink, as I paste an artificial smile on my face and try to join the most approachable group I see. Unless I have a dire need to do so, I usually chicken out and don’t go. I can’t think of any time when forcing myself to “work the room” has ever gotten me anything, because apparently I’m just not going to dazzle someone in 3 minutes of speed networking.
One thing I do, which keeps me in my comfort zone but doesn’t really give me any new coping skills 🙂 is to go to the event but arrive late. Oh I hate being late for anything, but there are some things I have perfected my arrival time for. If the first thing we have to do in church is to stand and greet our neighbor, then that is the time I am walking down the aisle searching for the easiest-to-get-to spot where there is a seat available. I glance up and smile and say hi briefly but am also able to occupy myself with putting my purse down and getting settled. For lunch-and-learns at a new job I went to a couple of years ago, I definitely made sure I had just gone through the line and picked up my food when the speaker took the podium. The good news there is, I do enjoy reconnecting with people I have gotten to know over months or years, so after a few of those lunch-and-learns I started to see people from other departments that I’d had some contact with – and actually had plenty to say to them or ask them about. The time before the event went too quickly after I really knew a few people!
I keep up with quality contacts and try to maintain those relationships, but they are always people I genuinely know and like to deal with. I develop friendships or friendly-acquaintanceships with people over time, and there is no replacement for the genuine time put in as coworkers, neighbors, or other similar situations. When I’m comfortable with people, the time flies by, and the pre-event would be spent catching up, helping with whatever is needed or just relaxing and seeing who is there. I think one thing I need to try in the pre-events where I know no one is that I can approximate those same activities and be a lot more comfortable. Even if I’m not dazzling.
Photo credit: ShashiBellamkonda