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Apr 25 2009

How To Work A Room As A Midlife Single

Published by at 4:33 am under Advice

I’m a bit of an introvert. That means that my consciousness is captured by all the information coming in at me. An extravert would be charged up by a room of 50. I am overwhelmed. So I had to think through how to handle myself in a setting like that. How do I meet so many new people. How do I enjoy myself. Here is some of what I’ve learned.

Someone told me once that the word, “courtesy,” contains in it the word, “court.” Courtesy is how people were supposed to act when they were at a royal court. It is a kind of social ritual, a set of rules for how to act regardless of the personalities of the people you are dealing with. Such rituals make social dealings go smoothly. That is the purpose of courtesy.

The most important rule of courtesy in a large social setting is the rule that anyone gets to talk to anyone for three or four minutes.

What happens in the first four minutes of a conversation? Actually quite a bit. You usually learn someone’s education, social class, and personal taste and values. You learn how well they listen. You learn how generous they are interpersonally.

The other thing you are doing here in using the four minute window is stepping past “the stranger threshold”, that built-in instinct we have which keeps us away from strangers. Once the two of you have stepped across the stranger threshold, you can speak to each other again easily.

Here are ten little hints how to step across the threshold gracefully.

1. Open with an invitation to conversation. It’s not an audition; it’s an opening. Bland openings work just fine. Hi, my name is Philip. Contrived approaches damage rapport. What you want to do is make contact and leave an opening for a conversation to start.

2. Learn names and use them a few times. It will help you remember the name, and if you use it in a friendly way, you’ll be showing friendship to the person you are speaking to.

3. Keep your first encounter light. An encounter with another person is a big impact, even if you are not an introvert. People who have just met break off eye contact often in order to soften the encounter. Having a short encounter and then leaving the four minute rule is the same idea. When you re-encounter the person later, you are no longer a stranger, you are an acquaintance, a known person. And you start the next contact at a more relaxed and open level.

4. Do pre-meet-ups. This is along the line of the previous tip. Smile when you have eye contact and do a non-verbal hello. A silent “hello” when you haven’t met lays the groundwork for the first meeting. Later on, even two minutes later, you can come up and talk to them and have the stranger barrier lowered

5. Be with a friend. Women know this. They network in pairs. Men can do the same. The safety and the friendship between two people who are comfortable with each other makes it more comfortable in turn for a third person to join. One of the best ways to talk to a stranger is to draw that person into a conversation. Also, when the new person is talking to your friend, you get a chance to watch how the new person in action.

6. Offer food. Much as you would befriend an animal-type animal, you can befriend a human animal by offering them a plate of shrimps on toothpicks. Pass the nuts and chips. Men buy each other drinks. It’s a deep ritual to share food.

7. Flirtation just happens, so let it. Most conversations between men and women are almost flirtations at first. By voice tone alone you can usually tell whether someone is on the phone with a man or a woman. If flirtation is forced it’s always a turn-off. If it’s natural and real, it’s pleasant and not insulting. It’s just a flirtation.

8. Tell your truth. Don’t “over-share.” No embarrassing secrets, please. Keep it light; you’ve just met. But stick to what ever is true for you in the here-and-now. You would be amazed at the sensitivity of most people’s bullshit detectors. And one of the first readings people take of each other in an initial encounter is whether or not the new person is safe.

9. Look over there! Most people are perfectly happy to share spectatorship, as a way of connecting with a new person. It takes you both off the spot. A straight-out you/me encounter is pretty intense. This is a way to be together for the first time, but less intensely.

10. Be physically open. It really matters. People respond instinctively to physical openness. Show your palms, show your face, show your throat. Stand close without crowding and smile expectantly. The other person will respond.

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