So you have overcome your initial fear, and using coping self-talk you have set yourself realistic goals and now you are in that room full of strangers. What to do now?
If you remember that most of us will feel some degree of nervousness or shyness in this situation you can look at all the other people and know that they are probably feeling the same as you. You will either all stand around waiting for someone else to make the first move, or you can be the one to do it.
Making contact involves different stages and getting started is easier if you have developed some appropriate opening remarks which can be used to fit the situation such as :
Introduce yourself – “Hello – I am Janet” offer your hand when you say it and the response should be automatic. It is simple way to start a conversation. The normal polite reaction is for the other person to reply in kind. So now you know who you are talking to, keep some of these in mind:
Comment on the occasion – “Looks like a great party” this can be followed up by a question “Have you known Peter (the host) long?”
Pay a compliment – “I do like that dress – it really suits you” “I like your sense of humour.”
Be honest about how you feel – “This is the first time I have been here and I am a little nervous”
If you want the other person to feel comfortable you need to send them positive messages – and not just verbally. Your face needs to reflect your interest in talking to this person – smiling indicates a liking and an absence of threat – and looking into the other’s eyes shows that you are genuinely interested. However there is a fine line between a fixed stare that feels threatening and not enough contact which may give the impression you are desperate to escape. Flick your gaze occasionally over their shoulder to lesson the impression of intimidation or just look slightly down.
Supportive gestures like nodding when the other is speaking will demonstrate that you are listening and encourage their continued participation. When it is your turn to speak make sure that you speak clearly and slightly slower than normal. Nerves often make our voice shrill and our speech too fast.
Conversation usually moves in patterns of threes: speaking, switching and listening. Meeting new people involves seeking common ground which requires specific information. For instance do you know the same people; do you share work similarities; do you like the same books, music or films? Using questions and learned listening skills you can soon find out if you share some common interests. This in turn will affect whether you wish to continue the contact or end it.And ending conversations can be more difficulty than starting them! Ending this conversation means that you will have to start again with someone new. But there may be many reasons to end talking to someone, perhaps some one else has called you away; you may be having a great time but it is getting late; or you may simply be dying of boredom! So how do you do it? Well start by breaking the proximity bond by edging and turning very slightly away from the person.. Break eye contact deliberately; if you have been called look to that person, if it is getting late look towards the door, if you just need to get away look to someone else. Follow this with holding out your hand for a final handshake and deliver your message.
In your final message you politely indicate whether you wish this contact to continue or not. If you would like to meet again be positive and appreciative “I really enjoyed talking to you, and hope we meet again” said with a smile and sincerity may get the hoped for response, but if not and you really would like to meet up again, take a deep breath and say something like “Perhaps we could meet for coffee? I will be in the city on Friday if that’s convenient?” and you shouldn’t need my help to take it from there!
But what if you have been consumed with boredom, if you have not been able to find even one point of similarity? How to end the conversation without being positively rude? Well the body language is the same except smile less and positively step away when holding out the hand. “I am sorry I must go and talk to … [the host] … please excuse me.” usually does the trick.
So remember that most of us will experience some degree of anxiety when walking into a room full of people we have not yet met. So develop some positive self-talk and set yourself achievable goals. Use coping and coaching self-talk to build your confidence. Work to set others at ease in initial conversations which will take the pressure off you. Use your body language and eye contact to demonstrate your interest – and learn how to end the conversation gracefully. With these skills you will find each occasion will become less stressful and easier for you to develop social contacts.