The holiday season is packed with social events, but if you're an introvert, surrounding yourself with a group of strangers, or even acquaintances, is likely a nerve-racking experience. Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking (Berrett-Koehler, 2010) says introverts can still enjoy holiday parties by understanding and working with, rather than against, their natural temperament.
"Introverts think to talk and extroverts talk to think," Zack says. This difference in temperament can explain why extroverts thrive at holiday parties while introverts try to ignore them. While introverts energize alone and prefer fewer people and minimal stimuli, extroverts feed off the energy of a crowd and thrive off a bustle of activity. Holiday parties are typically set up to play against introverts' natural character, but Zack says understanding your strengths can help introverts survive and thrive at holiday get togethers.
Here are five tips to help you make it through the season.
1. Arrive early. You may think arriving late is a great way to cut down on the time you have to spend feeling uncomfortable at holiday parties, but Zack says arriving late sets introverts up for failure. "Think about what introverts don't like. They don't like a lot of action, a lot of activity and a lot of people which is exactly what they walk into when they get to a holiday party late," says Zack. Arriving on time or even early provides introverts with an environment that they thrive in. "There are only a few people that get to events exactly on time and it will be a much more introvert-friendly experience," says Zack.
2. Stand in line. "A lot of the time introverts just don't know what to do with themselves," says Zack. Standing in line for drinks, food or raffle tickets gives you a temporary purpose. "There's only two people to talk to – the person in front of you and the person behind you and there's a natural ending to the conversation – when you get to the front of the line," says Zack.
3. Plan ahead. Introverts are often great listeners, but aren't spontaneous conversationalists . Planning some conversation topics such as a good book you recently read or a new movie that you would like to see can help you feel more relaxed and prepared to network. "Rather than saying ‘I'm bad at small talk', set yourself up for success [by planning ahead]," says Zack.
4. Ask open-ended questions. Plan some interesting, open-ended questions that will stimulate conversation. Rather than asking "what do you do?", try asking "what's the best part of your job?" Tap into your natural strengths of being a good listener and come back with insightful follow up questions.
5. Be the first to sit down. Banquet-style events with large round tables are often intimidating for introverts who feel uncomfortable with large groups. Zack recommends being the first one to sit down. Allowing others to fill in the table gives a natural opening to a conversation, rather than trying to join a group that is already established.
Related: 7 Key Habits of Super Networkers