Trix Tips: When meeting is easier than greeting

Hi Monsters missed you how ya been sweet GIFs love what you’ve done with the place!

I’m still here for you (promise), but today’s column will be another quickie one, because I once again find myself lacking the time/energy/presence of mind necessary to devote to literally a single other person’s problems besides my own. And if you don’t believe me, just ask any of the humans I’ve interacted with these past few weeks how many times I’ve snapped at them for even deigning to have a minor problem at/near me. (The answer to this hypothetical question would be “0-2 times,” but in my black heart of hearts, that figure would be higher.)

It’s true. I’ve been… testy, but even more tragically, just… utterly useless to another living soul. Ergo, I really need you guys to pick up my the slack and give Mr. Sympathy here your full support and attention.

Dear Madam Commentatrix,

I’ve recently decided to get back out into the world: the world of happy hours and meet & greets, to be precise.  As someone who works from home, I need to go out and meet people for networking purposes.  And as much as I love him, my dog can only provide me with so much companionship.  However, I’m kind of nervous about it.

My problem isn’t that I hate mingling.  I like meeting new people, and learning about their lives that are so different from mine!  My issue is that I have trouble keeping the conversation going.  When someone tells me their occupation, I have literally NOTHING to say to them other than “Okay!”  It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I have absolutely no idea what to follow up with, and I’m afraid that I’ll ask something really obvious or personal when attempting to get more information.  Is there a general formula when conversing with others on this matter, or is it as simple as “stop giving a shit about all of this and just ask whatever you want”?

Yours truly,

Mr. Sympathy

the office gif rainn wilson 1000 dwight schrute jenna fischer pam beesly *the office *dwight schrute *pam beesly *dwight x pam

Dear Mr. Sympathy,

The second one! Cancel lunch, send the talent home, that’s a wrap, folks!

LOL I kid! But also, I do think you should worry less and just trust your instincts more. Don’t be afraid to take the conversation in a different direction, even. Worst case scenario, people feel mildly uncomfortable for two moments then answer your questions anyway, nine out of ten times.* But honestly, it seems to me like your anxiety is the main issue here, not your conversation skills. It also sounds like you’re more of a listener than you are a talker, which is also perfectly fine in my book. In fact, you might even be a highly sought-after type of conversationalist without even knowing it! Literally SO MANY PEOPLE would love to just talk about themselves to anyone willing to listen, so if that’s your thing, then go for it. You could probably get away with no more than an occasional “Mmm,” and a couple “Ah’s,” and maybe, like, nodding and smiling a lot?

If you just can’t shake the nerves, and depending on how you feel about this, you might also try having a calming drink before embarking on one of these meet & greets. Truth be told, networking-type things are on my personal list of “most loathed activities,” so I feel like I should probably leave the brunt of the advising to the more, uh, professionally intelligent monsters. I know they’re out there!

But truly, Mr. S, you’ll be great!
*Unconfirmed statistic.
_________________________ is almost not homeless anymore!

About Commentatrix

First-wave millennial.
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28 Responses to Trix Tips: When meeting is easier than greeting

  1. I’ve always found “That sounds challenging,” said in an encouraging, tell-me-more tone, to be very helpful re: the “what do you do?” follow-up, even if I’m not 100% sincere (if nothing else, it’s more honest than “that sounds interesting”). There’s always SOMETHING challenging about even the most basic jobs, and people usually enjoy venting/bragging about it. Another good one is “So what’s your average day look like?” or something similar.

    Also, don’t be afraid of “obvious” questions. Most people don’t really know all that much about what people in different jobs do, even if they’re in the same field, so don’t go in worrying that everyone’s going to expect you to already be an expert. Saying “That’s not really my area, could you tell me more about it?” and the like is perfectly okay, IMHO.

    • Kate says:

      There’s always “What do you like most about your job (hobby,dog,best friend)”. My old standby to get the kids talking was “Who got in trouble at school today?” So maybe you can ask “Any juicy office scandals brewing?”

  2. catweazle says:

    I second the drinking suggestion! I am also awful at mingling and networking and usually just don’t bother. One thing I have to always remind myself is that when somebody asks you a question they probably want to be asked the same question back (I usually still forget).

    I do find that asking unconventional questions can sometimes be fun! Like once I got really drunk and went around a bar asking everybody what their opinion of Taylor Swift was and had some very interesting conversations. Of course if you would rather blend in a bit instead of being that weirdo who asked the weird questions you can go with standard stuff like “How long have you lived here?” and “Where did you go to school?”

  3. FRQ says:

    One trick I learned is to take the sentence the person just said, then rephrase the predicate as a question. Use it sparingly, though, as the other person might catch on, at which point you’re on your own, pal.

  4. Casey says:

    Just do a really cool handshake when you meet. If they can keep up, you’ve pretty much found your soulmate and can just sit silently next to them without it being awkward.

  5. flanny says:

    I AM ABOUT TO SAY A SAD THING. So my dad died when I was very little, and part of the effects of that are that pretty early on in relationships someone will ask me about my parents and I’ll say, “Oh my mom blah blah blah” and then they ask about my dad and it’s awkward and no matter how you say it it’s a black cloud over the convo, and while I don’t necessarily feel like crying about it, the people are always sweet and apologetic. But it stalls the conversation for a moment or makes them feel sorry for me. Because of this, I was always cautious about asking even the most basic of questions to people I’d just met because there could be something sad lurking and I would make them feel uncomfortable and would associate that discomfort with me.
    But that means that I’m a very bad conversationalist, and a selfish one. But recently I realized that I know how to control conversations where my dad gets brought up. I know I have this sad fact and that I’m going to drop it on someone, and I know how to pick the conversation up and move on. And once I realized that I got less afraid of asking other people questions. People know what they do and don’t want to talk about, and if you end up asking them a question they don’t want to go in depth with, they’ll be able to steer it away.
    I don’t know if this is even something you worry about or if it helped at all, but there is my very situation-specific advice. And I guess the advice is “Don’t be afraid. You’re talking to an adult who can handle themselves.”

  6. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a genuine “Oooo! Tell me more about that!” It works after almost everything (you can’t really say it over and over again to the same person) and it gives the other person the option to keep going.

  7. artdorkgirl says:

    These are all really good tips. Another one I like to use is “so how did you get into that?” This works with professions, but it also works with a bunch of interests. “I really dig fusion jazz!” “Oh really, how did you get into that?” “I’m a doctor for the mob!” “Oh really, how did you get into that?” See, it works for anything!

  8. gnidrah says:

    I think everything everyone’s already advised is great! I am lucky I guess, I love chatting and I am very lucky that in my line of work I get to meet some fabulous fascinating people. In fact, sometimes I have to be forcibly removed from rooms in order to get me to stop chatting!

    I think the key thing here is, everyone basically loves talking about themselves – I mean, look at what I have just written. I instantly turned it round and made it All About Me. Ask what people do. Ask if that’s what they always wanted to do. I think Theresa’s spot-on about ‘typical days’ – people seem to find it endlessly fascinating that I get up at 4am, for example.

    Being British I also have weather as a good topic up my sleeve. You can also be seasonal – right now, as it’s summer, I use holidays a lot: where have people been? Have they visited before? What did they do? In the winter, you have Christmas as a good topic, or again, just the weather.

    You have to try to latch on to little clues – remembering names is important, I believe, but a good 80% of the time, people give you something to work with. Is there a news story you could bring up (non-controversial if poss…!) – at the weekend, I met a guy who was a vacuum cleaner salesman. Dull, you might think, but there’s a story in the news right now about how Europe wants to ban powerful vacuums. So that got me out of an awkward silence!

    Anyway this is getting overly long now (I said I liked talking) but don’t forget: every now and again, you meet someone with whom conversation cannot be salvaged. Let It Go, as a cartoon character once said.

    • artdorkgirl says:

      Wait…so why do they want to ban powerful vacuums? And are we talking about dyson’s or industrial ones?

    • A bunch of years ago, at a big meetup of previously online-only friends, I encountered the worst conversational black hole ever. He was otherwise perfectly pleasant, but gave NOTHING back; it was excruciating. You’d ask a question, and he’d answer, and then…nothing. He’d just stand there looking at you expectantly. I’m sure he was just nervous and I felt bad to an extent, but eventually gave up, because it was like trying to talk to a wall. I saw the same thing happen throughout the course of the weekend with other people–and then afterward, he posted this long, passive-aggressive blog post about how no one wanted to talk to him.

      • Sota says:

        Some people you just have to walk away from. It’s not worth the anxiety if they aren’t willing to pull their weight conversationally.

      • Erika says:

        I had the opposite problem once. I talked to this very socially awkward guy who didn’t understand visual cues and whatnot. It was at an event that served food, so I happened to take a bite from my plate, the guy asked me a question right at that moment, and I swear he stood there staring at me, waiting for an answer while I chewed.
        Very uncomfortable.

  9. Some good questions to keep it going:
    How did you get into the field?
    What’s the best part of your job?
    Have you always worked at [x] job?
    Are you from here originally? Which will then have them talking their background, etc.

    Or, in a fun way “Isn’t that the same thing that [x] does on [insert tv show/movie]?”

    I’ve found that my best networking happened when none of those involved actually considered it networking. We were all just drinking or hanging out, sometimes not even talking about our jobs even though we all knew we were in the same industry,

  10. I would also like to add that most of my questions at networking events I also use on first dates.

  11. marlasinger says:

    These bits of advice are really helpful for me, because I have always felt pretty socially awkward. I notice a lot of the suggestions are about asking about someone’s job. If you’re not at a work function, is it okay to ask someone what they do for a living? I thought that was taboo, or maybe I just had some jerks make me feel like it was taboo, I don’t know. I was under the impression that asking, “So what do you do?” is not cool, so I’ve felt even more uncomfortable lately because I’m trying to come at it a different way like, “So how do you spend your time when you’re not…?” Ugh. Even writing about this topic gives me anxiety.

    • I certainly hope it isn’t taboo, because I do it all the time! No one’s ever been put off by it yet, so far as I could tell.

    • flanny says:

      Ooh, I feel like maybe it is taboo in some countries. My friend taught in France for a little a few years ago and I think she said you weren’t supposed to ask about people’s jobs there because the answer would suggest how much money the person made. ARE YOU IN FRANCE IF SO PLEASE BRING ME CHOCOLATE

    • old man fatima says:

      Hot tip, if you’re on the other side of this you can say what you’re trained to do. So, if you’re trained to be a geologist, but you’re unemployed or working as a barista, you can be like “I’m a geologist” and not have to feel bad about yourself. If you have no skills and a shitty job, you’re sort of out of luck, though.

    • 101percentjuice says:

      Americans instinctively put people in boxes based upon their current job. like, that is one of the few MAJOR defining traits of a person in our culture. for that reason, i personally don’t like asking people in casual conversation what they do for a living unless they seem to WANT to be asked or if they maybe do something very exciting or interesting.

      and then on the flip side, i sort of do a little dance like Fatima suggested when i’m asked what i do. here’s my real life example: i recently moved to Minneapolis/Saint Paul, so i have a fairly lame stopgap kind of job just to cover my rent and basics for now. instead of mentioning that job, i mention my creative projects (which will hopefully one day be my career). i just call it “freelance work”. at that point, especially if it’s someone i’m hitting it off with and we’re having a genuinely good conversation, i don’t mind talking my day job should conversation come back to it for whatever reason. ultimately, i bend the truth a bit, but only to give what i feel is a more accurate first impression of myself (don’t hate the player, hate the game~~~~).

  12. Commentatrix says:

    Wow, what a great job everyone did on this! I was really hoping Mr. Sympathy would reveal himself by the end of the day, and I was REALLY hoping he would turn out to be Mr. Tumnus, because I miss (and worry about) that guy! Simon, if you’re reading this, we demand proof of life!

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