Having to go out and socialize seems to be an inevitable fact of life. As an introvert, I try, at all costs, to avoid going to things that require me to put on pants and talk to people.
Despite my best efforts, however, I sometimes find myself at a thing wearing pants and, yes, talking to people. We all have to attend these events from time to time for a job, partner, or child. Receptions, galas, and school plays are an unavoidable fact of life.
Being prepared is the key to navigating social events with more comfort and less stress. I have a mental toolbox where I keep my coping strategies. Like most toolboxes, it has some well-used tools, some never-tried tools, and some “I might need that someday” tools. Before an event, I choose a few coping methods from my mental toolbox.
Here are the seven tools that I most frequently use.
How to Cope When You Have to Socialize
1. Volunteer to help out.
If possible, contact the host of the event and offer to help out in some way. Most of my stress about going to a social event revolves around my discomfort with awkwardly standing around. I think it’s that whole “introverts dislike chitchat” thing. Since deeper conversation is difficult in the social event environment, I tend to stand around a lot wondering how not to look stupid.
I stumbled onto this coping tool when a panicked hostess begged me to keep the buffet trays full during a party. Suddenly, I had a reason to talk to people, not to talk to people, and to walk away from people. Perfect.
2. Decide ahead of time how long you’re going to stay.
I tend to be a fairly flexible person and I’m not overly fond of strict schedules. So, in the past, I didn’t think about how long I would stay at a social function. Consequently, I’d feel pressured to stay far longer than I was comfortable — long after an “introvert hangover” threatened.
I decided to do a little pre-planning and choose an amount of time that would work with my introversion. Err on the side of a shorter amount of time because you can always stay a little longer if you want to.
If your party-partner is a social butterfly, pre-planning is critical. Your extroverted party-partner may want to stay far longer than you do. Have a conversation before the event about how long you want to stay.
If you can agree, then YEAH! If you can’t agree on how long you’ll be at the event, drive separate cars. I actually know several spouses who duck out of art receptions to the local tavern and return later. Nobody seems to miss the spouse and marital harmony remains intact.
3. Let the host know how long you’re staying.
In fact, let everybody know how long you’re staying! We all know how it goes. There’s a party, there are beverages and food, the music is playing, and everybody is having a great time.
Then, when we try to leave, we get pelted with, “No, don’t go! We’re having so much fun! You haven’t even met Bob yet!” If everyone knows when we’re leaving, there’s much less protest when we go.
4. Have an inarguable reason for leaving.
I have to be careful with my inarguable reason because I try very hard not to lie. Nobody likes a liar. I have to avoid the 100 percent effective, “My kid/spouse/pet is sick.” While that excuse is a guarantee, uncomfortable questions tend to arise which require a perpetuation of the lie and possible collusion by your kid/spouse/pet.
Instead, I employ a creative use of words. My go-to inarguable reason for leaving is, “I need to spend some time with my family/kid/spouse/pet.” Make sure to decorate the excuse with a self-effacing, “you know how it is” shrug of the shoulders.
5. Arrive with a friend.
Use your friend as your accountability buddy. Arrange with your friend your departure time and/or inarguable reason for leaving. Nothing blows your cover like a loud-mouthed friend announcing that you’re leaving early because the pleasant chitchat has sucked away your will to live. It’s okay to involve your friend in the collusion because that’s what friends are for.
6. Prepare your elevator speech ahead of time.
A mentor of mine taught me about creating an elevator speech. He told me to be able to talk about my work in the amount of time spent in an elevator. Distilling my loquacity into two minutes was a challenge.
But, now that I have an elevator speech, I’m always ready to participate in a conversation. I have several “elevator speeches” prepared so that I’m ready for different conversations.
When preparing my elevator speeches, the hardest part for me was remembering to stick to generalities. A quick speech is around four sentences and paints a broad overview. “I’m working with a botanical garden to turn their garden plants into decorative paper” works better than a list of specific plants with their genus and species. An effective elevator speech can often end with a question, which takes the heat off you and creates the possibility of an escape from the conversation.
7. Go to the bathroom.
If all else fails, go to the bathroom. Nobody ever protests when you excuse yourself to the restroom.
Unfortunately, the restroom escape is a temporary reprieve. Eventually, you will have to leave the restroom and rejoin the party throng. Monopolizing the restroom is a good way to become really unpopular really quickly.
Avoid the temptation to use the restroom escape too frequently. People might assume that you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which could lead to uncomfortable questions and, again, the perpetuation of a lie.
On the other hand, frequent use of the restroom escape could cause people to completely avoid you for fear of catching whatever bowel dysfunction you possess. I can see the situation both ways. You decide.
Attending a social function seems to require a little more planning than just putting on pants because the whole “talking to people” thing goes a lot smoother with that planning. Before the next party you have to attend, pull a few of these tools out of your toolbox, grab your pants, and party like an introvert!
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Image credit: @zapoe2 via Twenty20