How To Enter Group Conversations
I think the reason people have trouble entering a group conversation is because they want to break into the circle without interrupting the whole circle. But those two desires are at odds with each other, so they don’t know what to do.
When it’s a group of strangers where nobody really knows each other, you don’t feel as much like you’re “breaking” into the group because the glue that holds that group together hasn’t set yet.
But when the group knows each other well, you have to actually break the glue… otherwise you’re stuck on the outside, maybe talking to one person while the rest ignore you.
The solution is simple.
You have to firstly accept the fact that you ARE interrupting the group conversation, and then acknowledge that to the whole group. Loudly enough for everyone to hear.
“Sorry to barge in here but this sounds pretty interesting. Cool if I listen?”
“I don’t want to interrupt but you guys seem cool. Can I join in?”
That’s it. The disruption to the group doesn’t have to last any longer than that.
But make sure everyone hears you.
Because what you’re basically doing here is asking everyone for permission to enter the group. You’re giving everyone the opportunity to show you whether you’re welcome or not.
We naturally don’t want to interrupt people, because we’re aware that we might be unwelcome. But when we choose NOT to interrupt everyone in a group, what we’re actually doing is slyly sneaking in without giving them the opportunity to say no.
And that’s rude.
Whereas acknowledging the interruption to everyone, and being prepared to leave if you’re not welcome, is not rude.
It actually helps to use words like squeeze in, barge in, interrupt, etc., because it shows full awareness that you know you’re interrupting. Which suggests that you’ll also have the awareness to leave if you’re unwelcome.
What people don’t want to be around is someone who isn’t aware that they’re interrupting. Because they’re harder to get rid of.
So we’ve talked about how to enter group conversations… but now how do you navigate them once you’re in them?
Navigating Group Conversations
You know how people tend to start talking right at the moment that you want to start talking?
If you have something to say, you’re not going to cut off the person who’s currently talking, right? No. You wait until they’re done. But that’s exactly what everyone else is doing as well. Then when the speaker is done it’s almost like a race to get the microphone.
As soon as you have something to say, open your mouth, raise your eyebrows and make a gesture with your hand. You can even make a noise like “Ooooh!” or whatever tickles your fancy if you want. Then go back to listening.
All of that stuff combined tells everyone in the group that you have something to say about the current topic, without actually cutting off the conversation.
If your gesture throws the speaker off, you can add a quick “sorry” if you feel like it, then cover your mouth with your hand and keep it there. This is another gesture that signals that you have something to say.
More often than not the current speaker will wrap up what he’s saying, and when he’s done everyone’s heads will turn to look at you, because your actions essentially said “I’m next.”
Now here’s the next tip.
Stop Overthinking And Stay Present In The Conversation
When we’re in a group conversation and we can’t seem to get a word in, we tend to drift off. We get stuck in our thoughts and stop paying attention to what’s being said.
Then what happens as a result is that our gaze starts wandering, or our body starts fidgeting… and those things signal to everyone else that we’re no longer part of the conversation.
We’re staring at the floor, or looking off into the distance, or playing with our pen, which tells everyone else that we’re not interested in what’s being said.
So it’s not that they’re excluding us from the conversation… it’s that we’re opting out ourselves.
You’ll find that if you focus on making eye contact, nodding and reacting to what’s being said with your facial expressions, the other people in the group will automatically direct their attention towards you. So you’ll feel involved even when you aren’t speaking yourself.
We spend most of the time in group conversations listening, especially in larger groups, because it’s more than just you and one other person. So make sure you listen attentively if you want to stay involved.