Despite my best efforts as an introvert, I sometimes find myself at a thing wearing pants and, yes, talking to people.
Having to go out and socialize is an inevitable fact of life — even though, as an introvert, I try at all costs to avoid going to things that require me to put on pants and talk to people.
So, despite my best efforts, 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 our job, the happiness of our spouse, or our child. Receptions, weddings, and school plays are an unavoidable fact of life.
As an introvert, 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 some day” tools. Before an event, I mentally review a few coping methods from my toolbox.
Here are the seven tools that I most frequently use.
How to Cope When You Have to Socialize
1. Avoid awkward moments by volunteering 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 party or gathering 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 in advance how long you will stay (and communicate your timeline to anyone attending with you).
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 pressure to stay far longer than I was comfortable — long after the dreaded “introvert hangover” had set in. This resulted in me feeling tired, mentally drained, and grumpy far after the actual event had ended.
Spurred on by this frequent social exhaustion, I decided to do a little pre-planning and choose an amount of time that would work with my introversion. I erred on the side of a shorter amount of time because I figured I could always stay a little longer if I wanted to.
Pre-planning your time to leave is especially important if you’re attending the event with an extroverted spouse or friend. Your co-partyer may want to stay far longer than you do (as is usually the case with extroverts). So make sure to have that conversation before the event (and before you start shooting death rays from your eyes at the extrovert who won’t leave).
If you both agree on your departure time, then YEAH! If you can’t agree, then drive separate cars. I’ve seen several spouses duck out of art receptions to the local tavern and return to the event later. Nobody seemed to miss the spouse, and marital harmony remained intact.
3. Fend off protests by letting people 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 drinks 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 you’re leaving, there’s much less protest when you go.
4. Have an inarguable reason for leaving.
Speaking of leaving… make sure to give an inarguable reason.
However, 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% effective, “My kid/spouse/pet is sick.” While that excuse is a guarantee to get out the door, 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.” It never hurts to decorate the excuse with a self-effacing, “you know how it is” shrug of the shoulders.
5. Collude 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 so you’re ready for random conversations.
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 one spends in an elevator. Even though I’m an introvert — famous for my word minimalism — distilling my job description into two minutes was a challenge.
But now that I have an elevator speech, I’m always ready to participate in a get-to-know-you 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 end with a question, which takes the heat off you. A simple, “So what do you do?” works just fine.
7. When all else fails, escape 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. Also, monopolizing the restroom is a good way to become really unpopular really quickly. But when you need a quick breather — a chance to re-center yourself and recharge — there’s nothing like the privacy of a locked bathroom.
For me as an introvert, attending a social function requires more planning than just putting on pants. Besides, the whole “talking to people” thing goes a lot smoother with that planning. So, before the next event you have to attend, pull a few of these tools out of your toolbox, grab your pants, and party like an introvert!