Holiday parties are a mixed bag. On the one hand, there’s usually lots of good food and drinks. On the other hand there’s the chit-chat, which can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re not used to talking with people you don’t know very well.
It’s not that you lack conversational skills. After all, you can probably talk with close friends for hours with no trouble.
But when you enter a cocktail party, you may encounter psychological obstacles that prevent you from enjoying yourself:
1. Anxiety – If you’ve had previous experiences of feeling tongue-tied or embarrassed at social gatherings, it’s normal to tense up, worrying that it will happen again. You may become so anxious that you can’t think straight – which is not a good state of mind for carrying on a conversation.
Solution: Some people have a few drinks to calm down. But that approach has its own drawbacks. The quickest non-alcoholic way to reduce your anxiety is to take a few deep breaths while visualizing a peaceful scene. If you practice this a couple of times a day when you’re not anxious, you’ll be skilled enough to make it work for you in situations where you do feel anxious.
2. Self-consciousness – When you walk into a room full of people, do you feel that all eyes are on you, critically judging you? You know they’re not, of course. But it still feels that way. Actually, many of those other people are overly focused on themselves, even though they don’t show it!
Solution: Easing your self-consciousness is as simple as directing your attention away from yourself. Look around. Notice features of the room – the colors, the arrangement of furniture, the lighting. Observe a conversation across the room and try to imagine what the people are talking about.
When talking with other people, listen to what they are saying. The more you listen, the less self-conscious you will feel.
3. How you talk to yourself – Your comfort level at a social gathering is determined long before you set foot in the door. It starts with how you talk to yourself in the days or weeks leading up to the event. If your thoughts run to variations of “I really don’t want to go” while dredging up memories of previous unpleasant experiences, you are essentially rehearsing having a bad time. When you finally get there, your rehearsed thoughts and feelings are set in motion automatically.
Solution: It doesn’t have to be this way. If you find yourself dwelling on how difficult it’s going to be or on how much you don’t want to go, counteract those thoughts with different ones. But they have to be credible. Saying to yourself, “It’s going to be wonderful” probably won’t sound convincing. But phrases like, “I’ve endured a lot worse” or “I’m up to the challenge” will at least put things into a more manageable perspective.
Instead of waffling about whether you feel like going to the party, consciously make a decision to go, and to how long you’ll stay. With that commitment in place, treat it like any other obligation. You don’t have to look forward to it. But neither do you have to dread it.
ONE THING TO KEEP IN MIND: Research by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert and his colleagues show that how we feel at a future time is never as bad as we anticipate!
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