When it comes to meeting people in social situations, I do alright for myself. I’m an active listener, I don’t monopolize the conversation, and I’m friendly. The problem with meeting people at parties or other events is that I’m not great at taking the initiative to introduce myself. I don’t need to be surrounded by people to have a good time, but sometimes my aversion to self-introduction means that I end up standing on the fringes, awkwardly watching the rest of the party mingle.
Maybe that’s what I’m not good at–mingling. And it isn’t that my parents never took me anywhere. No, my parents are fantastic minglers. I’ve spent my formative years watching them model good behavior at events that have hundreds of people. Somehow, this trait was not transmitted, either genetically or through repeated observation and exposure. I’m not totally hopeless, though, because when I’m given a task that involves working with people, or even initiating conversations with others, I shine. Volunteering at Ride for Roswell this past weekend, I spoke to hundreds of riders easily. What came less easily was talking to my fellow volunteers. With a specific task in mind, such as registering riders for the ride, I have a basic script that I can then vary to fit the situation. With social situations, there isn’t a script, and there isn’t necessarily a set objective that I’ve ever been able to understand.
So maybe what I’m saying is that at a party, I’d rather be a waiter than a guest when it comes to ease of conversation. When you’re given a specific role to play in a social context, you don’t have to figure out what side of yourself to present to the rest of the crowd. There’s no fretting over whether you should respond to a liberal’s bait about Republicans hating all poor people, or whether you should pretend to know what movie everyone is talking about.
Strangely enough, though, not everyone shares my opinion. Some people do fantastically well with the social side of things, and less so at the professional side. Before registration started at the Ride for Roswell, there was a woman who was breezily chatting to the team leader and the other volunteers, leaving me to stand awkwardly up at the table, trying to decide if I should stand in the huddle of other volunteers or just eat my granola bar in peace before the doors opened. As soon as riders started approaching, however, it was my turn to shine. I felt entirely at peace as I slipped on my customer service mask and completed the objectives. Be enthusiastic. Be friendly. Be helpful. Be knowledgable. Be thorough. Give them rider everything they need. File the paperwork here. These tasks may seem simple enough, but the former social butterfly struggled and eventually gave up, instead retrieving the various items we had to give to riders. At the end of my shift, she commented that I had been amazing, and I smiled awkwardly and said it had been nice meeting these other people I worked with.
How can you teach a child to perform well in social situations both when they are working and when they are there simply for social interactions? I’m not 100 percent sure. Any advice for other parents? Leave it in the comments section…and I might try it out on myself.