Dear Mary Pat,
I have a little trouble being assertive in social situations, and it’s most obvious when I’m trying to talk to someone one-on-one in a mixer or party setting. If I want to speak with someone who is already engaged in a conversation, I politely wait nearby until the conversation is over.
But when I am in a one-on-one conversation with another person in a party setting, other people seem perfectly comfortable interrupting us to say hi or strike up a new conversation. What’s the deal?
Often Ignored in Ellison Bay
Dear Often Ignored in Ellison Bay,
This is common. Nothing frustrates me more than when I am interrupted…except maybe being ignored. It sounds as though you might be a little reserved. Others, for the most part, are not. I don’t think you should start being aggressive, however, as you acknowledged, you are going to have to be more assertive.
I was recently at a dinner party and was talking to a woman whom I had just met. I was mid-sentence when a man came up to us and asked this woman a question without acknowledging that I was even standing there, or that he was being rude. He’s the type of guy who would be the first one in line for the lifeboat and wouldn’t look back to see if anyone else needed help.
She politely answered him but now the dynamic had totally changed. They were friends/acquaintances and I was all of a sudden odd man out, at least in this guy’s book. I could have retreated in defeat but I was too irritated with this guy. I decided to force him to acknowledge me and it probably took a good 15 minutes. I kept up with the conversation and interjected my thoughts when there was a natural break. When he finally made eye contact and spoke back to me, and truly included me in the conversation, I felt like I had won.
Not too long after it was time to eat dinner and I was seated next to people who were friendly and very easy to talk to, and everyone took turns speaking.
There are times in social settings when you can’t get a word in edge wise. The reasons could be due to too many people in the group, people being self-absorbed or maybe a bit of snobbery. What some don’t understand is that a conversation should be more like a game of tennis with words being lobbed back and forth and less like a lecture series. Since the words should flow back and forth, do not feel as though you need to timidly stand outside of the group. Unless someone is having an intensely private conversation off in a corner with body language shouting DO NOT DISTURB, you can jump in and add your voice to the mix.