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How To Survive In Awkward Social Situations 
by Jeremy Moore May 24, 2005

Parties are not fun for all. For some, the idea of being in a room full of strangers, or even casual acquaintances, inspires fear rather than frivolity. This article explains ways to calm fears and have fun.

It happens to all of us. The dreaded office party that was held our first week of work. The family reunion our girlfriend dragged us to. The dinner party hosted by some lady we barely knew.

Can't we just spend a quiet evening at home with a couple of friends?

Parties are not fun for all. For some, the idea of being in a room full of strangers, or even casual acquaintances, is one that provokes fear rather than frivolity. This article offers ways to calm nervousness.

Get Perspective

The first step to calming a fear is to recognize that you are not alone in it. At a large party there are probably dozens of people who were invited and maybe know one or two people, but will be strangers to everyone else. They likely feel the same social anxiety you do.

So when you talk to someone, they are likely too afraid of saying something stupid back to notice that you have said anything inappropriate.

We are all pretty self centered, and often we're too busy worried about how we look to notice how someone else is looking. No one is paying as much attention to you as you think they are, so get some perspective.

What to Wear

The only ways you'll draw unwanted attention at a party are if you are exceptionally attractive, exceptionally ugly, or if you are not wearing the right attire.

  • Costume parties are not just for Halloween. Every party has some sort of uniform.
  • If you are going to a backyard bar-b-q, it's best not to wear a tuxedo. Just wear comfortable shorts and a T-shirt.
  • If you are going to a semi-casual office party, wear khakis and a short-sleeved collar shirt. Leave the tie at home.

Every party has unspoken rules about what to wear, and the closer you are to the dress code the more likely you are to blend in, which is really the best situation if you are nervous.

While it may seem tempting to wear the sort of clothing that will spark conversation, this is an extremely risky proposition. If you have a shirt or accessory that has a good story, go ahead and wear it. But do not wear an outfit that makes someone ask, "why did you come here in that?"

Get Into Soap

It may seem obvious, but if you are going out to a party you want to shower as close to the event as possible. A morning shower will not be enough for an evening party, even if you just spend all day in an office.

Be careful with cologne and perfume. A little goes a long way and what may smell nice to your spouse may not go over so well on your boss. The bad thing about odor is no one will tell you if you stink, but they will tell other people. Play it safe. Shower immediately before and keep odor enhancement to a minimum.

Speak Up

When you make eye contact with someone do not stare and wait for them to say something. Speak first. Break the ice by giving your name or ask how they know the host.

Those who simply stare silently and smile may think they are just being shy, but it's actually a little creepy and they wind up looking like psycho stalkers.

Read Up

Opening a conversation with "so, read any good books lately?" may seem lame, but a variation of the language actually opens up a lot of common ground. If you have enough time, find out what the best selling book is and read it before going to the party. Odds are you'll find someone else who has read it and you'll have something to talk about.

If you do not have the time to read a whole book, read the newspaper from that day, particularly the sports page. Find out how the local team is doing and start a conversation with that.

If you are a sports neophyte, find a quirky news story. National pieces like exploding frogs in Germany or Beluga Whales in the Delaware River are excellent conversation starters.

Be careful though, because not all news is created equally. If you are new to a crowd, and you do not know how people would react, it is best not to start a conversation with political or religious news.

If you don't like to read, at least get caught up on the most watched television show. But as our society becomes less and less one of reading, those who read are often thought of as interesting. It's best to shut the television off and pick up a newspaper.

Say something interesting

Reading up before a party will help move the conversation beyond "hi my name is, and I work at X Company."

Work is how we spend about 50 percent of our waking hours, but while some jobs are universally interesting most are not. It's a pretty safe bet that no one has heard of the type of work you do, or if they have they have no real idea what's involved. It's an even safer bet that no one wants to hear about it, especially if you've been having a bad time lately. Stick with more universal themes

Getting Out

You don't have to stay at a party until the bitter end. In fact, it is usually a good idea not to. Typically, you want to arrive at a party no earlier than one hour past the start time. Survey the group and get to know the faces.

When it is time to start thinking about leaving, look around to see if it is a different crowd. If you were the last one in, you do not want to be the first one out.

If it looks like a whole new crew, feel free to say your good byes. Fish and visitors tend to stink after hanging around too long, so sometimes the key to being a good guest at a party is knowing when to leave.


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