How Do I Break Into a Group of People Talking?

24 Jan How Do I Break Into a Group of People Talking?

Go easy on your expectations here. A group of people who have been chatting awhile have already put energy into establishing a conversational rhythm. So when a newcomer appears, the group minimizes having to adjust or backtrack by politely but slowly easing in a new conversational contender. If you have concluded that breaking into a conversational group can be difficult, you’re right. But the cause usually is not rudeness, just a desire to continue a momentum that is satisfying.

I prefer the term ¬†“joining a group” rather than “breaking in” because your attitude needs to be adaptive, not aggressive. The degree to which the group resists an outsider depends on the intimacy shared by the conversers, their previous bonding as a group, and the group’s perception of your status relative to theirs. For example, a college student walking over to a group of professors who are conversing will most likely get a brief, polite response, then a buzz-off signal as the profs continue to talk shop.

Loretta was eager to befriend a group of women she noticed having lively conversations in the cafeteria at work. One day she sat a seat away from them at a long table, hoping to be included in their conversation. When they didn’t speak to her, she said she felt humiliated and dropped the idea of pursuing contact with them. Too bad! If she had hung in a bit longer, Loretta might eventually have made some new friends. She needed a better grasp of…

How to Get In With a Group

  1. Don’t expect to be greeted like Royalty. Expect little more than a slight acknowledgment that you have arrived.
  2. Be as unobtrusive as possible. Stand slightly away from the group but show interest in the speaker. Let them get used to the sight of you. Eventually everyone will shift to accommodate you.
  3. Don’t volunteer opinions or profundities right away. Your first remarks should acknowledge or agree with the speaker. If you sweep right in full force, they’ll feel you are intruding-as you are.
  4. Watch for signs that the group is opening for you. In addition to shifting positions to let you in physically, they may request your opinion or direct questions to you.
  5. Ease into the conversation by showing you’ve been listening awhile: “Joe, I know what you mean about the movie being sentimental. It’s almost as sappy as that French film I saw last week.”

Note: Sometimes it’s wiser not to try to break into a group. Loretta would undoubtedly have been more successful approaching one of the women in that group who chanced to sit down early and alone. When the others joined the two of them, Loretta would probably have been included naturally, and the ice would have been broken for later occasions.

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Laurie Schloff
laurie@speechimprovement.com