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Is there anything I can do to avoid being the only person who doesn’t say anything in a social group setting?

The obvious answer is to talk, but I find it difficult to (i) find the right time to interject and (ii) where discussion topic is something I’m unfamiliar with, to think of anything to talk about.

This question was prompted today after a seminar that my colleague and I went to. We met another person who is joining our company. He was being introduced to other colleagues (from a different team) who happen to be at the seminar also. The other colleagues greeted the new person and my colleague but not me. They then exchanged pleasantries and goodbyes but not to me.

I’m not close to those colleagues but have run into them once or twice on a lift. I wanted to say that “hey you might not know me but I’ve started during the pandemic” but thought it might be weird to the new guy as I’ve been with the company for more than a year. I somehow think that my lack of interaction is due to me thinking too much about what is the right thing to say. Maybe I should just say anything that comes to mind (with a little filter) but I’ve also said silly things which is my I’m more cautious now.

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  • As a side note, these colleagues seem a bit rude. That they don't chit-chat with you, so be it, even if they could show some interest. But not even acknowledging your presence by greeting or saying goodbye is rude – Laurent S. Apr 5 at 8:43
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Some people find talking in social situations much easier and can seemingly break into a group straight away, but that isn't always a good thing. Most social groups build up gradually and organically over time, and people don't instantly break into them as easily as you might think. When you see someone loudly and confidently breaking into a new social group, you don't know what they might say about them when they aren't around. It's much better to be invited into a social group than to forcibly break into it.

A group is of course composed of individuals. The key to being accepted as part of a group is to be accepted by the individuals that make up that group. They won't always be together. Rather than try to latch onto a group conversation, look for an individual to talk to. You don't have to force a conversation and tell them about yourself - take a genuine interest in them, and ask more questions than you make statements, even if that is just simply asking others how they are doing or asking them about their work.

'Social networking' is not something exclusive to the internet. The same principle applies in real-life situations. Just as adding one person to your social media gives you potential to branch out and interact with their friends, making a single friend in real-life is a bridge to new social groups.

In the work place, you could make it your goal to get to know everybody individually over time. Then, when everybody is in a group, you'll find it easier to speak because you know how each individual might respond or react. In social situations like parties, people will 'mingle' throughout the evening, becoming part of large group conversations for a while, but then breaking away for individual conversations. Go for the individual conversations, get to know individuals rather than try to break straight into the groups.

And don't be afraid of saying 'silly things'. Be yourself, and don't fake anything. I've seen it happen, especially in the workplace, where new people feel like they have to prove themselves by being what they think they are expected to be, and they always end up looking stupid. It pays to be honest and humble about what you know, especially at work. If you say you don't know something, you should get help and training; if you pretend you already know you'll likely end up making a mistake. The same is true in social situations - for example, if you pretend to like sports so you can break into a conversation about sports, sooner or later it will become apparent you know nothing about it and you've done yourself no favours. If you talk genuinely about your interests you are more likely to discover other like-minded people and form friendships.

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I agree with Astralbee's approach for a long-term solution.

If for some reason you need a short term solution, where you need to break into the conversation before getting to know the group, then I've found a useful technique to be asking a question. I do so immediately after a topic I'm uninformed on comes up. A paraphrased real-life example:

Alice: I considered using a password manager but I just use a couple strong passwords for my important stuff and a single simple password for everything else.

Bob: I store all my passwords in an encrypted drive instead.

Alice: Yeah I guess that would work.

Me (cutting in): Hey, sorry, could you explain what you meant about the encrypted drive thing? I've heard about password managers but not that before.

This addresses

(i) find the right time to interject

by interjecting immediately after an unfamiliar topic comes up

and

(ii) where discussion topic is something I’m unfamiliar with

by requiring the topic to be unfamiliar.

It can be a bit jarring since you are effectively interrupting their conversation, but I've found that doing so with a need (requesting information about a topic) tends to cushion that.

I would only suggest doing this once or at most twice for a given conversation, though - if you don't manage to join into the ongoing flow, best to simply thank them for the information then step back.

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