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Social settings can be fun and energizing. Or…let’s be honest. They can totally suck.

In fact, I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me how much they dread and despise:

  • Walking into a roomful of strangers.
  • Small talk that never goes anywhere.
  • Conversations that go on wayyyy too long — or start barreling down a rocky path.

To be fair, I don’t think we actively seek out these situations. But we all know they can happen. It’s part of life and work.

In any social setting we will likely have to sift through some sand (or other less pleasant substances) before we can find a new friend and create a little conversation gold.  And sometimes, even when we are among friends and loved ones, the gold can still be elusive.

I’m here today to share a few basic secrets on how we can be better prepared to deal with and even make the most out of these situations; to experience less sand and to find the gold a lot faster.   

Secret #1 – We are responsible for making sure we meet others and make friends. This often shocks the beans out of people. Especially those who believe they are already savvy socializers. And yet, the We Are Responsible Rule is written in the pages of many a social and business etiquette book and curriculum.

How do so many of us not know this?  Were we sick that day?  Did someone tear those pages out of the manual?

For some odd reason, we’ve all been led to believe that it’s someone else’s job (the host, greeter, or this year’s duly-elected Social Chair) to make sure we make friends at an event. Nope. Not true. No one is coming to our rescue unless we are smart enough to bring along an incredible date or pal who is socially fearless and/or knows everyone and is willing to introduce us around. (And then, by gosh, we’d better buy the drinks to show our gratitude!)

“But,” some will argue passionately, “what about the responsibility of being a good host?”  (Literally, I hear this argument about once a month.)  Hello!  If you’ve ever thrown a party or put on an event, you know that, as the host, you are quite busy dealing with all kinds of details — and potential disasters.  Appetizers that burn. Smoke alarms that go off. Wine openers that break. Dogs that bark at or slobber all over unsuspecting guests. In short, a host usually doesn’t have time to be our personal social guide.  We are on our own!

What about greeters? Shouldn’t someone serve as a greeter? Walmart has greeters. Okay, good for them. Most social and business events have neither a greeter nor a duly-elected Social Chair.  So, again, we are on our own.

The simple, DIY solution is to follow these steps: First, we need to put on our Big Boy or Big Girl Pants. (Or skirts. Whatever.)  Next, we enter the party or event, survey the room nonchalantly, and take a deep breath. We then walk over to someone who is standing alone (probably waiting to be rescued by the busy host or the phantom greeter or social chair). We look them in the eye, smile, offer a friendly greeting and our hand (for a handshake), and introduce ourselves.  As in, “Hello, my name is Patti. What’s yours?”   From there, let the conversation begin.

Which brings us to our next secret.  (Hint: Good questions are involved.)

Secret #2 – We have the power to begin and direct the conversation.  (I find this so em-power-ing!! I hope you do, too.)  If we want to begin with a safe, small-talky topic, then we can ask safe, small-talky questions. This could be as simple as asking the other person what brought them to this event or how they know the host or guest(s) of honor. Or we could ask them if they know anyone else in the room or at the event. If the answer is no, we can go on a quest to make some new friends.  If the answer is yes, we can kindly ask for an introduction or two. Again, the power is in our capable hands!

When we are ready, we can ask more small-talky questions or dive deeper into any of thousands of possible topics. To do this like a pro, we can also make sure we’ve got some appropriate questions in our back pocket to get things going. What do we most want to know about people? What are our favorite interests that others may find interesting, too? What can we learn? What questions will bring the converstation gold to light?  In my experience, very few people bother to do this advance homework. Which is why conversations never get started or are so darn awkward and boring!

Try this!  Think like a journalist or researcher and decide what questions du jour you will ask everyone.  “Tonight I’m trying to find out what everyone is reading for enjoyment or self-development. What are you currently reading?”  “I’m interested in cool travel destinations. What’s a favorite place you think everyone should see in their lifetime?”  “Who was your favorite or most influential teacher or professor?” (Want more ideas like this? I’ve got a FREE list of questions and other free resources just for you. Simply click here.)

Secret #3 – We can change things when a conversation (or conversation partner) turns dreary, awkward, negative, or even weird.  Again, we are adults, and we are in charge!  We can take the reins and shift the exchange toward new, less awkward, and more pleasant and mutually interesting topics. Good questions, once again, are the key!

We also have the power to make gracious exits when necessary and seek out better conversations elsewhere.  (This is probably why the word “mingle” was invented!)  The words “Please forgive me” or “You’ll have to excuse me,” followed by whatever excuse we want to make will be our gracious ticket to sweet liberation from a long-winded lecture, someone with horrific dragon breath, a negative rant, or a conversation that is just limping along hopelessly.

Let’s review:

Secret #1 – We are responsible for making sure we meet others and make friends.

Secret #2 – We have the power to begin and direct conversations.

Secret #3 – We can change things when conversations (or conversation partners) turn dreary, awkward, negative, or even weird.

Hope this was helpful! And, as always, I welcome (okay, I actually relish) your comments, suggestions, and stories! I’d also like to know what secrets and techniques have helped you navigate challenging and potentially-sucky social situations?  Do tell!

If you’re ready for more ideas on topics such as breaking the social ice, joining a conversation-in-progress, finding “your people” in an anxiety-generating social setting, changing the subject with grace and skill, expanding and deepening a conversation you’re enjoying, shifting one you’re not, or even finding the Emergency Escape Hatch when it’s clearly time to move on, please…  Check out my new book. It’s currently available on Amazon and at BookPeople in Austin, Texas.

Do we need to talk?  I’d love to work with you!  My speaking, podcast interview, and appearance calendar for 2023 is starting to fill up. But I bet we can still find time to visit about how and when we can work together. Please reach out to me at or 512-970-8129