Do you remember when meeting your next best friend was defined by who was sitting next to you on the swings? Or who was standing next to you in the classroom line-up? Unfortunately, the adult world doesn’t leave too much to the fate of alphabetical order. We’re faced with meeting lots of new people all of the time: school fundraisers, picking kids up from daycare, attending meetings at work, company parties, welcoming new people to the neighborhood. It’s a total crapshoot. We never know if we’ll get along with the next person we meet. Have you ever given someone the benefit of the doubt because you have mutual friends? “Oh, if Jessica likes her, I’m sure we’ll hit it off.” Only to walk away thinking, “Maybe I don’t know Jessica as well as I thought I did.” I’m pretty sure the word ‘mixer’ was invented to make big gatherings of people who don’t know each other, sound exciting. What it really does is mix up a mess of emotions, with ‘excitement’ being lowest on the list sometimes.
With tens of millions of Americans presenting symptoms of some level of social anxiety disorder, you can hopefully find some comfort that you are not alone. I’m not a statistician, but I would say odds are pretty high that when you walk into a room thinking you’re going to be the most out-of-place person there, you are not the only person feeling this way. Meeting people is tricky business, so it’s important to cut yourself some slack. Here are some tips to help you find some empowerment during your next “nice to meet you” encounter:
Keep an Open Mind – My mom always used to tell me, “you never know where you’ll meet your next best friend.” I used to nod, because I thought this would be better received than an eye roll (sorry Mom). Well, it only took me a couple of decades to realize that this is so true. This doesn’t mean that you need to think of everyone you meet, as your next best friend. But be open to the idea. Make yourself available. Uncross your arms and try to avoid sticking to the side of the room, like the wallpaper. People will take the hint if you’re giving off the vibe that you’re not interested.
Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover – We make split second judgements about people all of the time. Ok, you may not be wanting to step-up on this one. I don’t blame you. I’ll take one for the team. I personally do it all of the time. We try to figure people out as quickly as possible. But if someone thought they had me figured out in a few minutes, it would be a grossly inaccurate biography. We’re all complex. Someone might see you as a mommy, but that’s not all that you are (although it’s definitely the go-to description). They’re not going to understand the situations and people who have made you who you are. Remember this the next time you’re feeling quick to avoid someone. We all deserve a chance.
Be Prepared – Doing some homework beforehand might not be a bad idea. Unless you have a crystal ball, you won’t be able to predict everything or everyone surrounding a meet-n-greet, but feeling prepared can give you a needed boost of confidence or comfort in an uncomfortable setting. If you have a friend on the inside, you can ask if you know anyone who’s going to be in attendance. Or you can think of some go-to questions, to have in your back pocket. Asking other people questions can take the pressure off of yourself.
You Don’t Have to Like Everyone (and they don’t have to like you) – Seriously, this is liberating, but it’s a tough concept for some of us. You don’t have to win over the whole crowd. You won’t win over the whole crowd. This is where my anxiety usually comes into play. I just really want people to like me. Okay, yes, this may sound desperate and pushy, but it’s true. If everyone is getting along, there’s less tension and things just go a lot smoother. But try as you might, you aren’t going to win everyone over all of the time. So here is your permission, to just be yourself and see who flocks to your energy. Process of elimination makes way for the longer lasting connections.
Smile – I do this A LOT! Sure, I smile when something is funny, but I also smile when things are uncomfortable (probably making things more uncomfortable). Yes, this can be exhausting, but it can also be rewarding. When people see a friendly face, they gravitate towards it. I can’t remember the last time I panned a room and made a beeline for the person who looked the most pissed off and disgruntled. Probably because it’s never happened.
Meeting people doesn’t have to come naturally, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. At least once in a while. When you look back at your friends, past and present, how did you meet them? Your friendship started somewhere, right? So, don’t doubt yourself too much, because you’ve already succeeded!