Social insecurity ahoy! How do I fix a bad first impression?
November 28, 2007 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Pretty soon I’ll be going out of town to visit a good friend, and said friend has just invited me to the Xmas party with the folks she works with since it’ll be held while I’m out there. Problem is, they’re very cool and I’m very NOT. We’ve met before and I’m pretty sure most of them think of me as my friend’s dweeby, awkward, strange pal. This only compounds my anxiety and will likely make me act even MORE dweeby, awkward, & strange this time around. Please help me with damage control!

So I’ve read through past questions on social anxiety in party settings (like this one), and they’ve had a lot of really helpful advice I certainly intend to try. However, one thing I can’t seem to find is any input on what to do if you’ve got to interact with a group of people you kind-of know, who kind-of intimidate you, and among whom you’ve probably already given an impression of yourself as shy, dweeby, and strange.

These folks are all more or less nice and they’ve never done anything “mean” to me but they do intimidate me. There’s just something about their group dynamics – a certain “edge” to the them – that gives me uncomfortable flashbacks to junior high (guess which kid –I- was in gym class!) and makes my awkward and introverted tendencies come out even more than usual. Unfortunately there’s also something about them that makes me kind of admire them and WANT them to like me – plus of course I don’t want to “embarrass” my friend (logically I doubt I would, I KNOW we’re good friends, but emotionally I can’t seem to shake the fear) – which is only compounding my anxiety and likelihood of awkwardness. Gah!!

All of which goes to say: I will soon be at a party with people around whom I’ve previously come across as dweeby and awakward, and they do kind of intimidate me, and yet I do want to go to this party with my friend and would LOVE to help fix those first impressions or at the very least not feel so uncomfortable that I only end up acting even MORE awkwardly this time around. Have you ever been in such a situation? Are there things I could do or consider that would help me fix a bad first impression and do a better job of putting my best foot forward this time around?

Guh, social buffoonery makes life so DIFFICULT! :P
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I will soon be at a party with people around whom I’ve previously come across as dweeby and awakward

How do you know that? You don't know that. They could have left the party thinking, boy, that Anonymous is so quiet and sophisticated! Feeling nervous at a party full of people you're not good friends with is normal. Don't project your social anxiety on them. Either they're nice, and they'll have a fun time getting to know you, or they're self-absorbed twats, in which case, whoppee! They'll be too busy thinking about themselves to notice you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:35 PM on November 28, 2007 [8 favorites]

Being comfortable with yourself is cool. It doesn't matter what you're like, what's important is that you like yourself.

Embrace your inner geek. Wear a geek T-shirt, one with a geek in-joke on it, or some strange geeky picture. Be what you are, and just remember what Feynman always said, "What do you care what they think?"

Geek is chic.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:40 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

You are an adult. You do not have to attend other people's office parties.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2007

You have put forth no actual evidence that these people think you are "dweeby, awkward, & strange." I get the feeling that since that's how you feel in their presence, you've become convinced that that's how they see you. But you don't actually know that for sure, do you?

Have you talked to your friend about this? If you'd feel comfortable doing that, you should. She could probably give you tons of inside info about how to ingratiate yourself: topics to bring up, topics to avoid, people you might have things in common with. If you let her know you're nervous about the party, she might also put forth more effort to make you feel comfortable when you get there: keeping you up to speed on what's being discussed, bringing up topics you enjoy discussing, coming to your rescue if you start to feel awkward.

When you talk to your friend about this situation, frame it so that she'll know you aren't condemning her coworkers at all ("I don't know your friends that well, and I feel a bit awkward around them sometimes; do you think you could help me out at the party?"), and I bet she'd be happy to help.
posted by bluishorange at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is why man began to consume alcohol.
posted by xmutex at 1:44 PM on November 28, 2007 [6 favorites]

Agree with TPS. This perception of you as awkward and not cool is likely all in your head. As humans we generally tend to place ourselves at the center and imagine that everyone else is thinking about us, but the truth is that there were probably other people at that party who were so worried about what other people thought of THEM that they had no time to really notice you. Or, they might have liked you. After all, you said they were nice to you.

I've found in such situations that people, as a general rule, tend to be pretty "cool" about meeting other people. They meet someone new, they want to get to know you a bit, and they want to tell you about themselves a bit, and maybe you'll hit it off and have some good times, or maybe not, but it's no big deal. They are certainly not judging you and placing you on a social ladder. Well, most of them aren't, anyway, and if they are, that's their problem, not yours.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Xmutex makes a good point, don't read his comment as (only) jokey or snarky. I hate to come off advocating drinking, but: the reality is that, as you yourself describe, much of the awkwardness comes from your feelings of insecurity and, well, awkwardness. A moderate bit of social drinking, in my experience, will make you open up, which will make them open up, and soon everyone is comfortable and chatting away.

The danger, of course, is that too much drinking can make you WAY TOO COMFORTABLE and the reality is that they may not all want to hear your extended exegeses on The Beatles vs. The Stones. Yes I speak from hard experience.

Also: getting some good exercise right before the event can often really make things a lot more relaxed. You feel more confident and clear, I don't know what it is but it makes a huge difference.
posted by freebird at 1:50 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had a whole big hallmarky response about being comfortable in your skin but then I had to talk to a client, (stoopid clients) so my points have largely been covered.

Be yourself.
Like for serious. I spent most my life trying to impress people, only to find out I was surrounded friends who didn’t know me.
You don’t know what (if anything) people think about you, so best to not worry.
posted by French Fry at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

also, assuming that they will think you're a dork is sort of an insult to them. are they all really that shallow?

maybe one or two are, but at least one of them is also your friend. your friend sees something worthwhile in you, so the other people probably do.

also, even if you don't become best of friends forever and ever, presumably most of them are mature enough to be able to enjoy an evening in your presence anyway.

i third the above advice to have a couple of drinks. no need to get sloshed, but hey, it's a solution as old as time.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:58 PM on November 28, 2007

A lot of outwardly cool people (by which I'm extrapolating that you mean they have a lot of superficial knowledge of fashionable news, dress well, and interact comfortably with people just like them, but I could be wrong), are secretly convinced that the dweeby strange awkward people have something mysterious going on and they are secretly envious.

I kind of figured this out because I am the socially inept, dweeby awkward strange member in a family of cool people, and they tell me that their friends are either intimidated or fascinated by me. Unfortunately what this means is that when I'm forced into social situtations with these people (who basically scare me to death), they want to talk to me, which is pretty much my worst nightmare.

Not much help, but the long and short is, you are probably just as intimidating to them as they are to you.
posted by nax at 2:03 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hey, that "edge?" It's what you develop within a group dynamic to feel cool.

I'm way shyer than most people would ever expect. Here's some tips:

Old-fashioned politeness can take you really far, even among people who don't superficially seem as if they value it. They've replaced politeness with their own internal system, but that doesn't mean the old rules don't work.

If they're going on about something and you're just not sure you even get the joke, stick with a raised eyebrow or small smile until the moment passes. (My favorite success story with this is from working in community theatres as a teenager. I honestly didn't get half of the dirty jokes, but everyone thought I was adorably filthy-minded.)

Don't try too hard to join in with tossing out the biting comments. Bonus round high score exception: A well-placed callback to previous snark that will zing the most confident person in the group. (The most confident one is the best-equipped to take a joke, and using their own words keeps you "innocent.")

The weirdest stuff about you is what they will probably think is cool. Fresh blood in a group is always a relief.

Tell your friend that his/her friends make you a little nervous so that your friend can throw you a lifeline if needed.

Intimidation-factor is magnified by groups. One of those people (that's not already the friend) in that group seems more accessible to you than the others. Try to find an opportunity to engage in some one-on-one chatting with this person.
posted by desuetude at 2:21 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

all good advice so far. i'll add another rather obvious suggestion that you've probably already thought of, but just in case you haven't: dress really well. Not necessarily formally, since you don't want to be preoccupied with embarrassment over being overdressed, but wear an outfit that you know works well on you, and makes you look your best. of course, check with your friend about the evening's dress code, but the idea is to show up looking as good as possible not necessarily so as to impress everyone, but so that your confidence is boosted.
you don't say if you're a guy or a girl, but it shouldn't matter too much either way. since i'm guessing you're a guy, wear your favorite, best looking shirt (preferably pressed as well), pants and maybe a good accessory or two. don't get caught up in over thinking what to wear, but put enough effort into your outfit before hand so that you feel as confident as you can when you walk into the room.
relax and have a good time.
posted by buka at 3:01 PM on November 28, 2007

I found that drinking two or so drinks loosens me up. Drink any more than that (depending on your body type/size) and you'll get into the regret-it-the-next-day stage.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 3:20 PM on November 28, 2007

If you don't know what to say - ask questions. People love it when others are interested in them. Sure, you may have to listen to some terribly mundane stuff about someone's career - but it could wind up being interesting and it almost definitely will endear you to that person.

Win over a person or two and you'll have plenty of good stuff going on at the party.
posted by terpia at 3:56 PM on November 28, 2007

Nthing they-probably-don't-think-you're-boring.

I think pretty much everyone has been in this situation at some point, and it's hard to handle it gracefully. For me, at least, when I'm in the majority, I don't (and I don't meant this in a mean way at all) have high expectations for the person who doesn't know anyone. If they chime in at all I'm really impressed. I feel like in those situations, the burden is on the people who know everyone to engage with the person who only knows one person, not the other way around. And if it doesn't really work out, I'd never think badly of the person who didn't know everyone.

The inverse is when I go into situations like this, I just remind myself that it can't go that badly because no one is expecting me to be brilliant and witty and funny. At least, I hope not.
posted by heresiarch at 4:29 PM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm certifiably dweeby, awkward, & strange and while I used to worry about it, I have to say that I've had a lot better time since I stopped caring.

That's who I am, and it isn't going to change.

Predictably (in retrospect) as I've spent less time worrying about how I appear, I've had more time to recognize how dweeby, awkward and strange many other people are. "Strange" appears to be normal, if you know what I mean.
posted by tkolar at 4:39 PM on November 28, 2007

"A lot of outwardly cool people...are secretly convinced that the dweeby strange awkward people have something mysterious going on and they are secretly envious." Second that. They probably think, "she probably thinks we're boring, after thinking about [whatever geeky thing you're into] all day. God, I wish I knew how to [program in machine code]."

I get a lot of mileage by visualization, which has been made cheesy, but really is deep and powerful (which is why I should remember to do it more than once in a blue moon). But it actually is not easy, because you have to find yourself in there and really convince yourself, against all the squirmy anxiety that doesn't actually believe it. You have to try to see yourself as already having become the person you really want to be. Give yourself some high expectations to live up to.

So can you sit yourself down, take yourself by the metaphorical shoulders, and say to yourself, "You are a good and interesting person. No, no, look at me. Look. At Me. You, you anonymous, are a--. No, you're not listening. Listen. You are a good and interesting person. Interesting. Even cool and beautiful. Easily as cool as any of them. You are-- no, really, say it with me here, I am cool. So relax. If they like you great, if not, fine, it doesn't matter, you are a good person." Do it a couple times between now and the party, and you should be golden.
posted by salvia at 5:19 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

1. dress nicely, and wear one item that's a little flashy, which people will notice & can comment on to start a conversation- notable earrings, a cool watch, a belt buckle, cufflinks, a lapel pin, an interesting tie, brightly-coloured shoes, etc. when someone comments on your flashy thing, you can take a vote of confidence that "they are interested in talking to me! they just proved it! they saw this tie and thought i was cool!"

2. drink a small-to-moderate amount. keep on top of this, don't over-do it.

3. keep a pleasant, receptive expression on your face- a small smile with slightly raised eyebrows is good. i like to think "oh, look, there's some macaroni!" to get the right level of smileyness.

4. greet people with a small physical approach- lean forward, shake hands, pat on the arm, say their name, smile. try to do this for every person in each group you join- "hi michael, hello lindsay, hey george, hi lucille!" it may feel like too much from your end, but those other people will just think you're polite and friendly. don't skip anyone- "hi tracy, and- oh, hi, i don't think we've met, i'm liz! oh hi, pete, nice to meet you. hello, jack, hi lutz..." etc.

5. be a good listener and try to make small private connections with individuals, for example, by "getting" people's little jokes. when a group is talking, if someone makes a quick funny, catch their eye and give them a smile just for them that says "maybe the whole table didn't notice that was funny, but i sure did!"

6. compliment people on the interesting parts of their outfits, or their choice of bar or drink or whatever. be sparing with this- more than one compliment per person or per conversation will sound like you're fawning.

7. pick a couple of non-controversial opinion questions and use them if the conversation falls apart. these kind of Qs are easy for anyone to answer and will allow for light, pleasant discussions that almost anyone can contribute to.
to someone with kids: "can i ask your opinon? my brother's wife is pregnant and i want to give them a really good baby gift, what should i get her?"
to someone who travels: "do you notice a difference between chocolate bars in the UK and the US?" or "is it true that nobody in France drinks coffee while they walk- only in cafes?" or "have you been to Asia? i've been thinking about planning a trip."
for pet owners: "do dogs go insane and sprint around the house every night the way cats do? what IS that?"
drinkers: "what's in that? you know, i've never tried one of those. i usually just drink xx, are those good?"
to anyone, "do you like big turk candy bars? my neice loves them, and i don't get it."

8. when all else fails, remind yourself that people don't need all the other people in their life to be cool or flashy. personally, i occasionally manage to seem cool & flashy at parties, and some people have confessed that they at first found me intimidating-- but deep down inside i am a nerd who quotes lines from star trek the next generation and eats lucky charms by the carton, and sometimes worries that nobody likes me. so those people aren't that cool, because nobody's that cool. you're just comparing their outsides to your insides. relax and be low-key and interested in them, and they'll like you just fine.
posted by twistofrhyme at 5:44 PM on November 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

So you have this really cool friend, and they have other really cool friends, and you think somehow this cool friend has decided to hook up with you, an unbearably uncool person, AND expose the other cool people to you?

You might want to consider the possibility that you're so out that you're in. You must have some qualities that keep this friendship going, and your friend isn't ashamed to make your friendship known...and if you weren't cool on some level, that wouldn't be the case.

So accept the fact that even though you might not be cool in the way they're cool, you are cool in a different way, and that's even better.

Case in point: I live in LA, and everyone I know is in films or television somehow. These people like to talk to me, because I am not in their industry; even though they have what we consider a cool career, to them it's just the thing they do, and whenever they find someone who does something else, it's interesting and mysterious to them.

So relax. You obviously have something going for you, and just because you don't know what it is doesn't mean it isn't there.
posted by davejay at 12:22 AM on November 29, 2007

I know exactly what you mean, and completely disagree with the ‘it’s all in your head’ comments. Some people just appear trendier and more with-it than others. Whether you appear more geeky or less with-it to them is open to doubt, but I think your feelings are very legitimate.

Remember that scene in High Fidelity (the movie) when John Cusack goes to a dinner party at Catherine Zeta-Jones and realises that he has nothing in common with anyone else? It’s that feeling. It’s not a bad feeling, you just have to go with it and be comfortable in your skin.

I’ve experienced what you’re talking about, a bit. Last year my hubbie and I were invited to a small Xmas gathering at our near neighbours. Our neighbours are lovely and friendly but they also have a trendy ‘edge’ to them which you describe so well. So when we were at the party and saw that it appeared to be full of people of the same type – with a certain ‘edge’ of smoothness, success, well-being, charm, attractiveness etc – we both looked at each other and our workaday geekiness as if to say ‘uh-oh, we’re going to have to work hard to keep our heads about water here’. But actually it turned out fine for a number of reasons:

- we arrived and left fairly early, so new arrivals had to talk to us and we didn’t outstay our welcome
- we (automatically) gravitated towards the more geeky of the smooth and polished lot
- we asked lots of questions and didn’t talk about ourselves a lot
- we had lots of mulled wine
- we tried to talk to lots of different people
- we smiled a lot

All in all we left the party unscathed and actually rather chuffed with ourselves that we had managed to charm the trendy people. We could “talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch”. Go us!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 5:28 AM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

You must have some kind of coolness if you're invited to visit said friend to begin with, so you're already at their (other party participants) level.

Don't worry so much about embarrassing your friend. If your friend was worried, you'd not be invited. Although this one is easier said, then done.

Don't feel forced to speak directly to anyone or everyone, just listen to them and if something strikes you that you wish to say or add, then do so.

Smile a lot, not a fake forced smile, but be genuine and that'll be what everyone is looking for most.

My daughter is probably the most shy person in the world, and it works to her advantage. She comes out the most popular at parties. Why? Because she allows everyone else to talk about themselves and is good at smiling and "being impressed" by them, even if she really isn't. She makes them feel good and interesting. It's not being dishonest, as she never wants to hurt anyone's feelings, but it really does work!! :)

A couple of drinks help loosen the tongue up a bit but be forewarned: DO NOT over drink. Heavy drinkers are the ones that everyone talks bad about on Monday.

Good luck!
posted by magnoliasouth at 5:55 AM on November 30, 2007

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