How does one... mingle?
June 7, 2007 9:32 PM   Subscribe

How does one mingle effectively?

I suck at mingling, which is bad, since I go to a lot of functions for work (often attended by many important people) where mingling is expected. So often I tend to hang out with the few people I do know, before making a quiet exit. This is because I tend to be more comfortable around those people (I often say I’m an extrovert except around people I don’t know) and because I can’t see how I can just insert myself into a conversation already in flight without looking rude or looking like a stunned mullet while I stand around waiting for an ‘in’ on the conversation.

So I'd like to learn to mingle more effectively. So please, share your tips for mingling! How do I start a conversation with a group of people I don't know (or barely know) while they are in mid-conversation without looking like a putz? How do I overcome what is obviously a level of shyness in introducing myself to people who are often quite important?
posted by Effigy2000 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 137 users marked this as a favorite
Talk about them, not yourself. Who, what, where, how, when and why. People love to talk about themselves. Don't sound too nosy though. If you need a creative opening line, try "Hello."
posted by caddis at 9:38 PM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

let people talk.
technically, that's all you need to know.

listen to what they say. joining a conversation isn't about interrupting it, it's about listening in, smiling, following up with a detail question. use their names in your question, be conscise and let them yap away. be polite and they will ask you things, too ... or at the end of the evening remember you for being such a nice person ... because you let them stroke their egos.
posted by krautland at 9:40 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

The commenters above have it right. I've sort of lost my flair for it over the years, but I recall I had the most success when I had a drink or two so that I could make a friendly approach, and then just find out what's on their mind and keep following it up, and not change the subject. People do love to talk about themselves.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:45 PM on June 7, 2007

Do you know some of the people you aren't talking to a little bit at least? What you can do is come up for a question for one of them while waiting for a suitable gap in the conversation. Come up, ask your question, and then introduce yourself to the rest group. "Hey, great to meet you! etc. etc." Then you send it home with, "oh, by the way..." That's how I roll at parties where I'm trying to meet new folks at least.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 9:52 PM on June 7, 2007

How do I start a conversation with a group of people I don't know (or barely know) while they are in mid-conversation without looking like a putz?

You can't.
You need to stand at the outer edge of the group for a bit, if you are welcome to join the group will generally open up a bit so you can physically join the group. Once there is a pause in the conversation, comment on something that was mentioned or ask a question. Focus on getting others to talk, and they will think you are a fabulous conversationalist.

It might help you warm up a bit to go say hello to some of the wallflowers in the room.

One good trick to meet the people you need to is to volunteer for something like collecting raffle tickets that will give you and excuse to talk to people.
posted by yohko at 9:53 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Walk by a conversation in progress. Circle it a bit then look the speaker right in the eye. When they look back engage their eyes and keep looking and listening. When they are done talking, make a comment.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:59 PM on June 7, 2007

The whole jumping-into-a-conversation thing has never worked for me - I always feel like I'm a stranger crashing a private party.

Instead, I try to get myself acquainted with a less active person in the group and then merge into the larger group. The larger group is then much more accepting of you because you've got an "in" with someone who's already part of the main conversation.

1. Casually approach the group and discreetly introduce yourself to the person closest to you without drawing too much attention. Use a lower voice than the rest of the group. Do this without pulling the person out of the main group. If there's a gap in the group, place yourself there otherwise stand in a location where the other person doesn't have his/her back to the main group.
2. Ask your new acquaintance what the group is talking about.
2A. If you're familiar with the subject, chat with him/her for a few seconds and then merge your mini-conversation back into the whole. Mission accomplished!
2B. If you're not familiar with the subject, say you're not familiar with it but that it sounds interesting/lucrative/something a friend of yours would be into. Then mention something that you're interested in and could talk about.
3. The other person now has the opportunity to do 1 of 3 things: A) give you background on the main conversation, B) start up another topic for you and him/her to talk about, or C) talk about what you mentioned. Any option is a win-win
4. Continue your sidebar conversation for a bit while listening in on the main group. Join the main group with your sidebar topic or the main topic.
posted by junesix at 10:46 PM on June 7, 2007 [25 favorites]

Oh, of course the other option is to create your own mingling group. Start a conversation with a wallflower, offer to get some drinks after a few words, and with drinks in hand set about rounding up the other wallflowers one by one. Before you know it, you've become the group that all the other minglers are trying to get into.
posted by junesix at 10:49 PM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

NPR story about mingling from this thread.
posted by sentient at 10:50 PM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Reading general interest magazines like The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Harper's also helps. So far, Monocle magazine has been quite good. Any of these will supply you with plenty of conversation starters.
posted by junesix at 11:25 PM on June 7, 2007

Being interesting is easy. Try being interested instead.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:25 AM on June 8, 2007

Is mingling different than networking?

With networking in a room full of folks (usually type-A personalities), it's important to recognize networking for what it is - a chance to make connections that will form the kernel of potential relationships. That's why it's important to never spend more than five minutes with one person. When the five minutes is up, excuse yourself and say that you're going to continue networking.

I don't know how to initiate a conversation (because of my job, people usually want to talk to *me* about gossip, etc), but smiling is helpful, as is asking questions.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:00 AM on June 8, 2007

I have to do a fair bit of socialising at events with colleagues from other companies and customers.

Name badges always help with introductions, and I've become versed in the art of getting people to talk about themselves, which goes a long way.

If I'm at a meet where I don't know anyone, I choose to speak to the other 'wallflowers', rather than stand on the edge of a group. Much easier to do.

I'm uneasy with people I don't know, and things improved when I learned to see 'schmoozing' as an acquired skill, rather than trying to change my personality to be something I'm not. You don't need people to be your *actual* friends, rather focus on communicating with them on an easygoing, fairly impersonal level. It's definitely an art form, and for me, one that got much better with practice. Good luck!
posted by poissonrouge at 2:03 AM on June 8, 2007

Is mingling different than networking?

"Mingling" is what humans in groups have been doing for thousands of years.

"Networking" is term that sounds like it was probably invented by someone looking to sell self-help books sometime in the last 20 years. The fact that you say networking is something that should be limited to 5 minutes per person before you tell them you're going to go "network" somewhere else confirms my opinion on this.
posted by Jimbob at 2:52 AM on June 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Networking is the reason for mingling. But IMO it is polite to behave as though this were not the case (of course, in some groups, this isn't an issue). You are supposed to act like you're being nice, rather than self interested.
posted by Goofyy at 4:06 AM on June 8, 2007

That's why it's important to never spend more than five minutes with one person. When the five minutes is up, excuse yourself and say that you're going to continue networking.

To be honest, I think this is bad advice, either for purely social mingling or the more professionally-oriented networking. At the beginning of grad school, where every large social event was both a chance to make friends and a chance to expand your professional network, I saw people do this all the time, and it always made me cringe. And think a bit less of them.

Imagine how you would feel if someone did this to you! You're standing there, having a reasonably nice coversation with someone, and then they look at their watch and say, "ok, well it's time for me to go talk to someone else!" Meanwhile, you're stuck there with your glass of wine, forced to find someone else to talk with. Ugh. Tacky.

I'm an extrovert that has dealt with this issue too. Once I start talking with someone, it's easy, but breaking that initial barrier can be difficult. I agree that finding other wallflowers to talk to is good. Also, if someone you know is part of a group that is talking, go up to them and sort of insert yourself there, discreetly.

It's also totally fine in most situations to just go up to someone and introduce yourself. No fancy trick here, just "hi, I'm Effigy 2000, I don't think we've met." Then they introduce themselves and you're off.

Oh, and if all else fails, hang out by the food and/or booze.
posted by lunasol at 5:52 AM on June 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I always try to remember something someone told me when I first tried standup comedy: People don't care about you that much. Whether you do good or bad, you'll be lucky if they even remember your first name. So if you're worried that if you approach a group, they'll be talking about you badly when you leave, they won't. If you're polite, interested in them and sincerely trying to learn something, at best they'll remember you as a pleasant person they wouldn't mind talking to later if they happen to run into you.

The codicil to this is that just according to the bell curve of jerks, there will be a small percentage of people who will be rude to you and make you uncomfortable. Just remember that this is a statistical anomaly, expect it to happen, and write it off for what it is.

All that advice worked for me whether I was on stage or at a cocktail party.
posted by lpsguy at 5:59 AM on June 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

A lot of good advice here. I will add that if your work is putting on functions for people who aren't from your work, then after you introduce yourself you can break the ice with some 'host' kinds of comments that ask after people's well-being: how was their trip, how is their hotel, are they finding the things they need in the city etc.
posted by carmen at 6:13 AM on June 8, 2007

Yes, this is a total self link, but I actually just wrote something that might help you over here.

It's all about how introverts can learn to network, or at least, how I did it.
posted by langeNU at 6:48 AM on June 8, 2007

Just have to agree with what other have said about the '5 minute rule' for networking. I have witnessed this before and I cannot help but feel sorry for the pathetic individuals who resort to tactics like this. It appears shallow, contrived and a wee bitty sad.

I work for a global business and often the room is full of ambitious go-getters at such functions- just by being relaxed and genuinely interested in what people are saying you can get somewhere and loosen up a bit.

Always follow your instincts. If it feels the natural time to move off around the room then do so, don't be going by any stopwatch! One other piece of advice: don't just buttonhole the 'important people'. You will get on better if you can mix with everyone. Plebs included.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 8:39 AM on June 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just by being relaxed and genuinely interested in what people are saying you can get somewhere and loosen up a bit.

Inevitably, this is what the most powerful people in the room do.

Talking to wallflowers and drawing them into the center of the room is a great strategy for the shy. The wallflowers are really relieved someone is talking to them, and when you step toward the center, usually a third person will come join your cluster and then you've got a conversation.

Sometimes it helps to take a broader perspective. You're supposed to use these events to put faces to names, get to know contacts, and discover resources that might be of mutual benefit. But it helps me feel more natural at them when I stay open to the idea that we might end up talking about travel, or running, or food, or volunteer work, or any number of other things that also expand your contacts but aren't narrowly driven by striving and business goals. We're still human beings and a party isn't a retail store.

If you're genuinely excited about your work, these things are a lot easier. Sometimes I'm actually really thrilled to meet people who have talents I can provide an outlet for, or who can help me further a pet project. What are you passionate about? Find some kindred spirits.
posted by Miko at 8:48 AM on June 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

See also the Manager Tools podcast on "How to Politely Become Part of a Group."
posted by rush at 11:38 AM on June 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow, great advice and answers everyone. I'm gonna try a few of these techniques out next time I'm at a functions. Thanks!
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:55 PM on June 8, 2007

im not very good at mingling so i'm not really the one to listen to, but i can tell you why i don't mingle. i don't mingle because im horrible at it, feel like i'm not attractive and mostly just scared. i'm an introvert. i see the world being played out in the clarity of my inside mind. i can walk down the street and use my outside mind and go from here to there and smile and all, but i seem to prefer to stay inside and mingle with my own mind. what i am saying is valid for not mingling and, because not mingling, not being good at mingling. i think ultimately it has to do with mere presence in social situations. the more you do it, the better you get, the less self-conscious you become. just like any mammal, you start to learn how to mingle. after awhile you can get pretty good. i'll paris hilton is an introvert. she looks to me like one.
posted by fargokantrowitz at 3:18 PM on June 13, 2007

Is mingling different than networking?

Mingling forms relationships, on which future interdependence can rest. Networking forms signifiers of relationships, used to justify future impositions.

Before the most recent round of go-get-em 'self-improvement' books for middle managers, networking was known as 'schmoozing', a term that more accurately captures its essential low-life quality. And if I detect that you are trying to schmooze me, as opposed to trying to establish a real relationship—and believe me, people can smell motivations—I am gonna give you a whole lot less than the five minutes you have rationed to me.
posted by eritain at 1:13 AM on June 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

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