Are you comfortable doing the "press the flesh" thing? When you attend workplace social functions, do you line up against the wall, frozen in position, not knowing where to begin or how to start a conversation?
Or heaven forbid, how to respond, should someone approach
If the thought of this type of occasion makes you shudder, if it drains you, if just thinking of the energy it would take to interact exhausts you, you might be introverted. (NOTE: all of us are a mix of both introversion/extraversion. This means that even if extraverted, you have moments when you relate to what I just described).
Whether you work with introverts or lean toward introversion yourself, you're not alone. Here's a sample of an email I received that demonstrates the challenges of being an introvert in an extraverted world, especially during workplace networking events.
QUESTION: Hi Marion. I am aware that others share my problem but no one has been successful in helping us wallflowers with their comfort levels at networking events so far. I'm such an introvert, I signed up for your communications newsletter in an attempt to learn how to "make small talk" at business gatherings without feeling like I'm having an anxiety attack and losing my words altogether.
Peggy, Birmingham, AlabamaMARION'S RESPONSE:
Hi Peggy. Bravo to you for reaching out to me about your communication challenge. My guess is, that in situations with your friends and family, you're not a wallflower at all. You likely feel completely comfortable and have moments where you have no problem at all at engaging in the interactions. Right? Here's the point: You already have the skills you need to forget the wallflower routine and begin to blossom.
To increase your comfort level at workplace mix'n mingle functions, the starting point is being aware of your thoughts. Thoughts become words, words become actions and actions, when repeated, become habits. It's these habits that form your reputation. It all begins with how you think.
TIP #1: Change how you think.
Clearly, you have a keen interest in connecting with others and already have strong communication skills -- otherwise, you wouldn't have reached out to me, right? Let that focus of wanting to connect with others be reflected in how you choose to spend your energy. Refocus your attention away from you and onto them, the people you're reaching toward. Use what I call, "The Limited Energy Principle".
You only have so much energy in your body. Instead of channeling it into thinking about your nerves, being self-conscious about how you look, and wondering what you're going to say, turn it all toward connecting with others. When you feel the nerves welling up, adopt the mantra, "It's not about me, it's about them". Come from a place of service and focus on the other person, not yourself.
TIP #2: Initiate contact.
Grab control, put yourself in the driver's seat. OMG, yes -- it's up to YOU to initiate contact. But how? This is the step that most people get stumped on, so let me share with you just a few of my top tips for initiating icebreaker conversations:
- Scan and plan. Scan the room and plan your strategy. If you're really nervous, approach someone you already know. If you feel more confident and adventuresome, approach a stranger. Ideally, choose someone who is standing alone.
- Introduce yourself. Walk over to the person, look him in the eye and say, "Hi, I'm Peggy. Nice to meet you. And you're ...?" They fill in the blank with their name and, bravo, you have a conversation going. Extend your hand after you've introduced yourself and make it a solid, friendly and confident handshake. If approaching and introducing yourself feels a little awkward, you could speak to the elephant in the room and say, "I'm just mix'n mingling a bit. I always find that a little awkward when I don't know a lot of people. Do you?" Or you could say, "I'm taking advantage of the chance to meet colleagues I normally get to chat with".
- Ask questions. Remember, you're coming from a place of interest. There's no better way to express this interest than by asking questions. Even if your colleague is verbose and you feel you can't get a word in edgewise, he or she has to breathe at some point -- pop a question in then! Lean in, take a breath, raise a finger to indicate you have something to say, and speak up. Use questions that must be answered with more than a "yes/no" response. That means, lots of "how" questions like, for example, "How many people do you already know here?", "How many of these type of events have you attended over the years?", "How does the planning committee get this event together?"
- Actively listen. If you want to be interesting, be interested. Let the other person know you're listening by nodding your head, punctuating the conversation with questions, inject "uh huh", "I see", "That's interesting" neutral comments if you have nothing else to offer. Just standing there isn't enough.
TIP #3: End the conversation and move on.
Yup, that's right. YOU take control and end the conversation to give you and your colleague a chance to mix and mingle with others. Nothing is worse than someone clinging. Be aware of your colleague's signals that it's time to end the conversation. Watch the body language -- are eyes wandering? Are shoulders and feet turned away from you? Have they clammed up and getting answers is like pulling teeth? Time to move on. Your objective: initiate and end at least 3 conversations. Your rule of thumb: limit your conversation to about 5 minutes, tops.
bottom line is this -- make an effort to communicate, and when someone
makes that effort with you, reward it by reciprocating. Doing those two
things helps everyone feel more comfortable, introverted or not.
PS: Want more ways to feel comfortable communicating in various situations? Consider investing in a webinar for you and your whole team: http://www.marionspeaks.com/marions-products/webinar-singles-may2013
NOTE: like this article? Invite your colleagues to sign up to receive their own at www.MarionSpeaks.com
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author
Recipient of APEX "Award for Leadership in Service Innovation"
© 2013 Marion Grobb Finkelstein