My last blog focused on ways that event organizers and repeat attendees can welcome newcomers into the fold. This time it felt only fair to focus on a few simple ways that individuals can make themselves feel more welcome in a new social situation.
Maybe you’re just like me
Every time one of my friends, family members, or colleagues tell me how comfortable I seem interacting with other people in social settings, I always think:
“Do they even know me?! How am I pulling this off?! Wait, stop -- don't ruin it!”
Don’t get me wrong, I do love to socialize with people… who I already know. If you give me a choice between forcing myself into a completely new social context -- especially a professional one -- as opposed to, say, staying home and staring at the wall? Well, I mean, let’s be honest here, that wall’s not gonna start at itself, now is it?!
But, like most of us, there are plenty of times when I have to socialize with groups of people I don’t know -- coworkers at a new job, new clients I’m onboarding, fellow attendees at an event or conference, friends of friends I’ve never met, extended relatives of future in-laws. So the last time someone I know remarked how gregarious I seemed, I decided to think about how I’ve been faking it all these years.
If the mere thought of interacting with others sends your mind scampering to a great book or binge-worthy TV show, you’re not alone. Or at least you wouldn’t be, if I weren’t busy reading... But here are some simple methods that always help me prepare for meeting and interacting with new people in unfamiliar situations.
Get into character
You’ll meet people who tell you that they’re always 100% the same person in each and every social situation. Hogwash! Their admittedly laudable achievement is that they’re very good at inhabiting each different role they play every day and transitioning between them fluently.
In every foreign language class I’ve ever taken, teachers have encouraged us to adopt names associated with the culture in question. “Why?” you might ask. Besides learning about the cultural and historical significance of different names, it helps you get into character. As a result, Wesley Davis could relax and learn high school German, while “Christoph” made all sorts of silly grammar mistakes.
“Cute,” you might say, “But I can’t exactly go around using made-up names in real life.”
Sadly n-- I mean, of course not!
Even in those classes, the name itself was just a crutch. The real point was to help us get into character so we'd have an easier time learning the target language. This act of getting into character can be just as valuable when entering new social situations. Take some time and prepare yourself:
Think through who you want to be in this context, and how you want to be perceived.
Who do you want to be in this context?
How do you want the people there to perceive you?
What are some questions you’d like to ask the people you meet there?
What past experiences might be relevant for you to reference?
As someone who other people apparently think of as sociable, I can promise you that many of us are preparing just well enough to fake it until it looks like we’ve made it!
Donald Rumsfeld & my approach to new scenarios
Whenever facing something new, I always hear Donald Rumsfeld’s voice in my head:
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.”
I often visualize a funnel moving from anxiety-inducing “unknown unknowns” at the top, through tolerable “known unknowns” in the middle, down into familiar “known knowns” at the bottom. The more of the first two I can move down that funnel, the more confident I feel.
Some HR departments and event organizers are great at facilitating this -- welcome emails, lunch buddies, networking wingpeople -- they put time, thought, and effort into making things accessible to newcomers and those less social by nature.
But if they don’t, just take some steps yourself!
Message an event organizer and ask them a question about the event -- doesn’t really matter what, just get a conversation going
Email a new coworker who had interviewed you and ask if they’d like to grab lunch sometime during your first week on the job
If those feel too interpersonal, try reading back through event message boards or your new team’s conversations on a work chat app. Go a step further and look up organizers, other attendees, or new colleagues on LinkedIn. Find past experience that’s shared or interesting.
You don’t even have to do anything with that knowledge! Just knowing it moves a few people from “unknown unknowns” closer to a “known known,” and that can have a huge impact on your comfort level.
Get there early and find some way to offer your help
People love to talk about being “fashionably late” and how they never want to be the first ones to arrive at a gathering. Me? I hate showing up late to find everyone already clustered into little pockets of discussion. Then again, fashion is rarely to blame when I’m running late.
Instead, I try and get there early and see if there’s some way I can help. At the office, that could mean helping someone make coffee or tidy up a communal space. For events and conferences, maybe it’s helping organizers, presenters or vendors get everything set up and ready.
Even if there’s nothing specific for me to do, people still appreciate the offer of help, and I get some time to familiarize myself with the space before too many other people get there.
In the end, goals aren't expectations
I don't always succeed in taking these steps. Even if I do, they don't always succeed in making me feel comfortable around new people. But when do I take time to research, prepare, and visualize, those are always the situations where I feel most welcome and confident right from the get-go.
Questions, Comments, Advice…?
How do you prepare yourself for new professional connections and environments?
What methods help you build and maintain confidence in work-related social situations?
What other kinds of topics would you like to read about on the CCN blog?
I’m not about to share anything we don’t already know, at least on some level, but I will share it in a way that will help us see relationships a little different...
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