This issue has been plaguing me for a while, especially since I’m a naturally shy person who runs into this problem on occasion. I also recently saw it being briefly talked about on a manner segment of a national morning show. How exactly does one go about socializing at a party? Specifically, how does one go about joining a group of people chatting? It’s one thing if you’re well-acquainted with someone in said little group, then you can just go up and start chatting with them and “join” the group that way. On the manners show, the advice expert said that to handle it, one should go up to the group and ask, “May I join your group?”. Really? That seems odd and awkward. And who in their right, polite mind would say no, you can’t join us, anyway? Recently I was at a large party where I didn’t really know anyone. Guests had broken themselves up into little clusters of groups chatting with each other wedged into various corners of the rooms. I didn’t know what to do, or how to approach that situation to socialize with anyone. Consequently, I spent most of that party being an awkward wallflower. I definitely didn’t have fun at that party! Could I have just gone up and joined a group by sitting, standing by them and start chatting? I didn’t know anybody well enough to do that, though. Or should I have followed that expert’s advice and asked to join them? 0430-13
The request to join an informal group of people has its proper context but not all the time. You have to gauge the intimacy of the group and what you can overhear being discussed and determine if perhaps this might be a group discussing a very specific topic they all know or are connected with each other which would make it more awkward for others not associated in that way to enter the conversational sphere. The more animated the conversation, the more likely there are to be satellite listeners who, at the proper time, might enter the conversation themselves.
I think I would be more likely to ask, “Hi, I’m Jeanne. Is this a private conversation?” If no, “Do you mind if I listen in on this interesting discussion?” But at a party, no one should have an expectation of conducting a private or privileged conversation in the midst of the festivities and therefore casually standing at the fringes of a good conversation should be commonplace. Some groups are easier to enter than others because someone has unconsciously assumed the role of the conversational gatekeeper and specifically draws as many people into the conversation as possible. If I were a wallflower, I’d pick one of those groups to join because someone is making it easy for everyone to be involved in the conversation.
Overcoming wallflowerism requires that you not sit back and wait for others to pull you into the life of the party. At a party where you do not know many people, it is incumbent upon you to take the initiative to introduce yourself to people and then ask questions that draw them out. People love to talk about themselves and they love people who let them talk about themselves or appear to have an interest in hearing them. Play on that and ask people questions that stimulates the desire to speak. I like to draw people out by asking if they enjoy a particular thing, how they came to choose their career or hobby, etc. For example, I recently met a naval officer and proceeded to draw him out this way:
“I lived near the Naval Academy and my cousin went there. Did you enjoy your time there? Did plebe year surprise you? Isn’t there some end of year tradition the plebes have to do, like climb a greased obelisk to remove a plebe cap? My cousin was on the sailing team, did you ever use those amazing yawls to sail, too? Ever go to one of the mixer dances? How well did the Navy football team do the years you were there? Many parents in our neighborhood sponsored a midshipman during the school year….did you have a local sponsor to hang out with on weekends and holidays?” Obviously not said one question fired after another but asked in the course of a conversation.