Are you an introvert? Do you find it difficult to go to social gatherings, parties, bars, or “people centered” events? If so, you are not alone. Lots of people describe themselves as introverted, which is a 25-cent term to describe an individual who prefers spending time alone or in small groups.
If that sounds like you, there’s a good chance that going out with friends to bars, parties or other social events causes you a great deal of discomfort. Some of this may have to do with a strong dislike of large crowds.
Regardless of reason, some introverts have been wrongly mislabeled as being “stuck up” or worse, narcissistic.
As a tool for coping, many who are introverted avoid social events like the plague, coming up with a variety of excuses to skip out. This approach, of course, is the opposite of that taken by individuals who identify as extroverts – meaning they thrive and are energized by being around others.
Regardless of whether you are introverted or extroverted, there are some situations that cannot be avoided.
Examples include workplace birthday parties, weddings, fundraisers and other important people-focused gatherings.
What follows are five tips for introverts who find themselves in situations where they must make an appearance at a social event. Some of these suggestions may seem like common sense while others might spark new insights. Read them all in order to fully absorb their context.
Let’s jump right in!
1. Be sure you know someone there
Many social situations allow a “plus one” or are held by a social group that we are at least peripherally involved in, such as a church or neighborhood gathering. If you are married or in a relationship, take your partner. If it is an office party, check with whoever you get along well with and see who is going.
You will likely find that there is at least one other introvert in the office who is also terrified of going. Partner up and agree to check in with each other throughout the gathering, especially if one of you sees the other alone along the wall or in a corner. Having a kindred spirit makes almost anything more bearable.
2. Be part of the group throwing the event
If you have responsibilities throughout the event, it gives you something to focus on other than feeling awkward and not knowing who to go talk to. Volunteer to be part of the event committee. If no committee exists because the event is informal in nature, look for opportunities to take on tasks that are badly needed. An example might be to take coats, organize gifts or gather supplies.
Doing any of the above allows you to divide your time between talking to a comfortable number of people and focusing on a concrete task, helping to manage those awkward transitions when one conversation dies out and finding another group to converse with.
Excusing yourself to get more plates or bring out more food gives you the perfect excuse to bow out of a conversation before it devolves into awkward silence. The more tasks that you can come up with to do during the gathering, the less time you have to focus on anxiety-provoking unstructured interactions.
3. Reframe the event into something more appealing
For many introverts, the word “party” immediately induces negative connotations, leading to that sense of dread. So, instead of thinking of it as a party, come up with specific tasks you would like to accomplish, such as meeting a business contact who you think might be receptive to one of your ideas.
While you don’t want to pitch that idea at the party, which is a mistake that many introverts make, you can at least get your name in front of that person, which can make it easier to approach him or her at a more appropriate time.
Or, think of the gathering as a time to get to know someone in the office who you think shares similar interests that you can nurture into a working relationship.
4. Know that you don’t have to be the life of the party
Many introverts assume that in order to get past their awkwardness or shyness, they need to be the life of the party. Yet, this pressure makes them feel worse and can lead to guilt or embarrassment the next day when they think about what they did to try to be the life of the party.
Instead, sit back and watch other people make fools of themselves.
If you’ve brought a plus one or check in with a kindred spirit, you can talk about how crazy other people are being, although make sure not to cross the line into office gossip or snarkiness.
Just follow your strategy of meeting specific people and achieving specific tasks and let other people provide the entertainment.
5. Arrive fashionably late and don’t stay too long
Many introverts are often rule followers, and when we see that a party is scheduled from 7-10, we arrive at 6:55 and plan to stay right up until 10 because we want to be polite. However, this can lead to forced interactions that end up not going well because we have run out of kindred spirits to socialize with.
Arriving 20-30 minutes late allows conversations to already start, and it can be easier to ask people to bring you up to speed on what’s being talked about than having to initiate a topic of conversation yourself because you’re the first one there.
Once you have made your presence known and talked with a few people, hopefully meeting at least one new person who can be a good contact later, thank the host and take your leave. You’ll feel good about your interactions, giving you a success to build on next year when it happens again.
If you are looking for more practical tips for introverts, there’s a great book I’d like to recommend entitled: The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World by Dr. Marti Olsen Laney.
Inside, you’ll find page after page of meaningful insights to help you better manage your feelings in social situations. What’s more, this is a great resource to turn to for tips on how to actually enjoy yourself when in the presence of large groups.
Social events are often stressful for introverts but that doesn’t mean you can’t take part in meaningful life activities. With a little planning, combined with the right outlook, going to parties, bars, and other people-focused gatherings can become much easier.
p.s. If you are curious whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, try taking this quick assessment!