“Why do people ignore me?” – What to do when you get ignored

Why do people ignore me?

When I was younger, I was often ignored.

Later in life, I started studying social interaction. I figured out the secrets behind why we get ignored. Today, thousands of people take my courses on social skills.

Here’s what my journey taught me about being ignored:

By making small changes, you can make people notice you, respect you and want to talk to you.

Contents:

  1. “Why do people ignore me?” The most common reasons for general situations
  2. Why do people ignore me in groups or prefer talking to my friends?
  3. Why do people ignore me after I’ve known them for a while?
  4. Why do I get ignored on text/chat/online?
  5. People ignore me at a new job/school/place
  6. Feeling ignored and having social anxiety
  7. Feeling ignored and having depression
  8. “I think I wouldn’t be ignored if I was more good-looking”

1. “Why do people ignore me?” The most common reasons for general situations

Mistake no 1: You’re quiet or don’t know what to say

Here’s the problem with being quiet: People usually don’t understand that you’re quiet because you’re shy or don’t know what to say (or because you’re an overthinker, like me)

Instead, they think that you’re quiet because you don’t want to talk to them. So, they think they’ll do you a service by leaving you alone.

Here’s another issue: If people try talking to you but you only give short replies, you aren’t “rewarding them” for making an effort and talking to you. They might even feel rejected, and don’t want to try again.

SOLUTION:

If you know that you’re quiet, over-think situations, or are shy, I recommend that you work on your conversation skills or shyness FIRST. If you do, your problems with being ignored will likely self-solve.

I recommend my guide on how to start a conversation. You might also want to read my guide on how to stop being uncomfortable in social settings.

Mistake no 2: Trying too hard and coming off as needy can make people ignore you

This was one of the reasons people ignored me: I tried too hard to make friends, and people picked up on that.

I’ve experienced this later in life from the other side: When someone seems too eager to talk to me, I just get a feeling that they are a bit desperate. That just makes me less motivated to talk to them.

At the same time, you don’t want to be distant or not take the initiative to talk. So how do you take initiative without coming off as needy?

SOLUTION:

Continue to be proactive by taking the initiative and talking to people. Just stop rushing the process.

You can see it as doing the same thing but dialing down the intensity a few notches.

If you try to prove yourself through bragging or humblebragging, stop that altogether. It has the opposite effect.

Instead of trying to convey all my personality the first day, I let it take weeks or months. Instead of forcing conversation, I made it when it felt natural.

In other words, I “smeared out” my initiatives and inquiries with people over a longer time. It stopped feeling needy, and people were more eager to talk to me.

Be proactive and social, but take your time doing it. Never look for approval. It’ll make you more attractive.

Mistake no 3: You might be waiting for people to acknowledge you first

This is another mistake I was guilty of:

Just because I often got ignored, I started waiting for people to acknowledge me first. This came out of insecurity: To avoid the risk of rejection, I wanted to wait for others to be nice to me first.

Instead, people took me for being unfriendly and arrogant.

This is what I learned:

  1. Dare to greet people first
  2. Dare to be warm right off the bat (smile, ask friendly questions)
  3. If I was uncertain whether someone I met would remember me from last time, I dared to be warm and confident. “Hi! Good to see you again!”. (This has ALWAYS been appreciated and feels much better than ignoring them out of insecurity.)
  4. Being warm and friendly doesn’t mean being needy (Like I talked about before).

Mistake no 4: Being bothersome or an oddball by breaking rapport

One of the pillars of social skills is to build rapport. That is, being able to pick up on the situation and act in a way that’s appropriate.

People who don’t build rapport tend to annoy those around them.

“But David, isn’t it fake to change depending on the situation?”

Being able to bring forth different aspects of who we are is a fundamental part of what it means to be human. You act in one way with your grandma and in another way with your friends, and that’s how it should be.

Personally, I think it’s beautiful and amazing that you can connect with people on a deep level by picking up on the mood and let out a part of your personality that matches.

Here are some examples of breaking rapport that can make people ignore you:

  1. Talking much more or much less than others
  2. Being way too high or low energy
  3. Talking about stuff others aren’t interested in
  4. Swearing heavily when no one else is
  5. Trying to be cool or aloof when others are being nice
  6. And so on…

The list goes on forever. We simply can’t memorize all these things, and it would be fake to have a list of ways to act.

Instead, here’s how I think about rapport: Think about how someone is. In other words – how would you act if you wanted to imitate that person? Are they soft-spoken? calm? Intense?

We have a surprisingly good understanding of how someone is when we think about it, right?

The next time you meet, bring forward the part of you that’s also soft-spoken, or calm, or intense.

The wonder of being a human is that we have all these aspects inside of us. Rapport is about using them when it’s appropriate.

When you do, you’ll connect with people on a deeper level, and they’ll want to be around you more.

Mistake no 5: Being negative or low-energy

Always being negative or low-energy is also a way of breaking rapport, but since it’s such a common reason for being ignored I want to bring it up specifically.

It’s OK to be negative or low energy at times, but we don’t want to make it a habit!

Here are some examples of having a negative attitude:

  1. Not smiling or showing happiness
  2. Not being appreciative of your friends
  3. Being quiet and give one-word responses to questions
  4. Being overly cynical
  5. Arguing with someone who says something positive

Why is it so devastating to be low energy or negative? Because people will be affected by that energy level. Since we humans want to avoid negative emotions, we avoid the person who emits them.

This isn’t about being annoyingly positive or overly high-energy. It’s about being able to pick up on the energy-level and positivity-level of others and be in the same ballpark.

Mistake no 6: Being tense can make you look unapproachable without you even knowing

This as well is a mistake I did. I couldn’t understand why people approached and talked to my friends but not me.

It took me years to find out that whenever I got uncomfortable, I got a stern look on my face that signaled “Don’t talk to me”.

You can make a reality check: Ask your friends if you look angry or stern when you’re in a social setting. If you do, remind yourself to relax your face and practice daring to greet people with a smile instead.

Mistake no 7: Coming off as weird

Another mistake I did was trying to be unique by having odd humor that people didn’t get. (They didn’t know if I was joking or not, which made them uncomfortable).

Being weird is a big topic, and I recommend you to read my guide here: “Why am I so weird?

Mistake no 8: Talking too much OR only asking questions

Both talking too much and asking too many questions about the other person gets old quickly.

We want to find a balance between asking sincere questions and also share bits and pieces about our own lives.

I’ve written about how do balance your conversations here: The IFR method

“David, why don’t people just tell me that they don’t want to hang out rather than ignoring me?”

This is the harsh reality of life:

People aren’t obligated to help you out socially. You need to figure out the social code yourself.

The good news is that when you do, you’ll get rewarded with a rich social life.

2. Why do people ignore me in groups or prefer talking to my friends?

“I talk to someone and then a third person comes and only they start talking”

“People look at my friends when they talk but not me”

“I start talking but then someone starts talking over me”

All these things are super painful when they happen (trust me, I know) but they don’t have to be personal! The same things happened to me, but when I made some adjustments to how I acted in groups, I stopped being ignored.

1. You might be too quiet and take up too little space

Whenever I’m in a group with someone quiet, I’m thinking “That person probably doesn’t want to talk”. So, I don’t bother them.

After a while, I usually forget about the person because the people who are active in the conversation take my attention.

As you see, it’s nothing personal against the quiet person – it’s just that if you want to be noticed in a group, you need to take up more space:

  1. Talk louder
  2. Practice knowing what to say

2. You might forget to make eye contact when you’re about to start talking

I was puzzled that when I started talking in groups, someone could speak over me.

Then, I realized that when I spoke too quietly (like I talked about in the last step) or when I looked down or away.

If you start talking and looking away, it’s like you say something in passing. If you want to create the feeling that you’re about to tell a story you have to keep eye contact from start.

The difference is MASSIVE: When you have eye contact with someone, it’s almost impossible for them to start talking about something else.

3. You want to constantly SHOW that you listen to not get ignored

Another super common mistake: Feeling left out of the group conversation, zoning out, and looking unengaged.

People will subconsciously feel like you’re not part of the conversation anymore (even if you’re physically still there) and they’ll ignore you.

The trick is to look engaged even when you’re just listening.

  1. Make constant eye contact with the speaker.
  2. REACT: Humm, say “wow/interesting/ah” whenever it fits.
  3. Ask follow-up questions.

Here’s my guide for how to SHOW that you listen. You’ll notice an instant change, like magic: Suddenly, the speaker starts directing their story toward YOU.

4. You might have a closed off body language

This is especially common if you a) get shy or anxious in groups or b) worry that people won’t like you, so you play it safe and are more distant.

Unfortunately, this backfires. No one wants to interact with someone who looks unapproachable.

You want to keep an open body-language and look friendly. This can be hard, especially if you’re nervous. But the good news is that you can fake it until you make it. Practice looking approachable in the mirror. Use that look consciously when you know that you might look closed off.

5. You could be misjudging the situation. Make this reality-check.

I often obsessed over not being included in the group and being left out. There was this super social popular guy I knew, and one day I decided to analyze him in social settings.

To my surprise, he sat silent for long periods of time without being spoken to. (It’s just that he wasn’t bothered by it.) When I paid attention to it, people regularly got left out conversations for a long time. It’s just that I hadn’t noticed because I was busy worrying about me. Make a reality-check and pay attention to how others are treated in groups.

Sometimes, it could be in your head that you’re more ignored than others.

3. Why do people ignore me after I’ve known them for a while?

Do you meet people who are friendly at first but then seem to lose interest after a while?

Perhaps you hang out for weeks or months, and then they stop returning your calls or are always “busy”.

If you can relate to this, the issues are quite different from being ignored in early interaction like I’ve talked about so far.

Often, it’s because we do something that takes rather than gives the friend energy. Some examples could be…

  • Being too negative
  • Being too high- or low energy compared to your friend
  • Talking too much about yourself
  • Talking about things your friend isn’t interested in
  • Etc.

This is a broad subject. I’ll recommend you to read my article here on why people stop keeping in touch after a while.

4. Why do I get ignored on text/chat/online?

“Why do people ignore me when I text them?”

“I see that people read my message but then they don’t reply”

This really sucks, and there can be several explanations.

For example, if people ignore you online AND in other situations you first of all want to look at the general reasons that I started off this article with.

But if you are specifically ignored online, here are some reasons.

1. People expect to socialize in a different way online compared to IRL

In real life, we can make small talk just to kill awkward silence. Online, people often expect more of a reason to talk: To plan something, to share something, and so on.

On text, don’t just write “What’s up?”. I personally don’t even respond to that because I wait for the person who texted to tell me what they want. To not be ignored online, have a reason for contacting people, like…

“Hey, do you happen to have a copy of the exam questions?”

With almost all of my friends, I only communicate to 1) discuss something specific, 2) send easy-to-consume memes, 3) link to something we know that the other person really likes or 4) plan for meeting up.

If someone tried to make small talk with me online, I would be puzzled.

2. They might just be busy

I used to feel terrible when people didn’t respond. Then, as my life got busier, I started doing the same thing without having any bad feelings about the person.

If you send a normal, legitimate question like something I mentioned above, wait for 2 days, then send a reminder.

If people, as a pattern don’t reply after that, you want to look at the general reasons for why people might ignore you, at the beginning of this article.

In this article I give more specific advice on how to start a conversation online. And in this article we talk about how to make friends online.

5. People ignore me at a new job/school/place

1. People mainly hang out with those they are most comfortable around

As soon as people have 1-3 friends, they feel little urge to socialize (because they have their social needs covered).

These people aren’t going to actively try to socialize with you. It’s nothing personal: When you have your social needs fulfilled, you’re going to be as content as they are.

This means that we can’t keep score of who takes initiative first. You have to take initiative again and again if you’re around people who already have their social needs met.

It’s important to do this in a non-needy way as I talked about by the beginning of the article.

2. Build your friendships through mutual interests

Most friendships are based on mutual interests. It almost never works to make close friends with people you have nothing in common with. If you’re new somewhere, seek out groups of people who share your interests. You can then use that interest as a reason for keeping in touch with them.


“Hi Amanda, how’s your photography project going? I just took some long-exposure photos in the park yesterday.” works infinitely better than out of nowhere saying “Hi, want to meet up after work?”

If you try to make friends with people you have nothing in common with, you have a higher risk of being ignored.

3. Learn to be OK with being by yourself at times and enjoy that.

I remember panicking when I was new in class: I thought that if people saw me by myself, they would think I was a loser. That made me try to push my way into the social circle which came off as needy.

Later, I learned this from a socially savvy friend: It’s OK to be by yourself, and if you look like you enjoy it, people won’t see it as a bad thing. They’ll just think you’re an introvert who prefers some time by yourself.

So instead of trying to push yourself onto others, learn to enjoy being by yourself occasionally. If you have an open body language and a warm, relaxed face, you don’t come off as the loser, but as the chill person who’s decided to have some alone time.

Use this as a “break” form socializing occasionally, and ironically, that will over time make people want to include you more.

6. Feeling ignored and having social anxiety

If you come off as very nervous or insecure, that can make people less motivated to interact with you. Why? Because when you feel awkward, they feel awkward, and we humans want to avoid negative feelings.

If you have social anxiety or shyness, put all your effort into working on that, first! When you’re able to be a bit more relaxed meeting with people, the problem of being ignored will probably self-solve!

Here’s my guide on how to not get nervous around people.

7. Feeling ignored and having depression

It’s especially common to feel ignored when you’re having depression.

Now, it could obviously be for any of the reasons I’ve covered so far. But when we feel depressed, some additional things happen in our brain that can distort reality.

1. A depressed mind has a harder time seeing things from others’ perspective

When we have depression, studies show that our brain is worse at seeing things from others perspective.

If we’re in a good state and don’t get a response on a text, we probably just assume the person is busy. In a depressed state, it might be proof that we’re worthless to others.

Consciously remind yourself that when you’re depressed, your brain is tricking you. Ask yourself: How would a happy person think about this situation?

I’m not saying this that mindset will help your depression, but it will help you get a more realistic view on the situation.

2. If you’re depressed, people will probably mistake you for not liking them

Several times in my life I’ve come across people who seemed really unfriendly and cold. Later, I learned that they were depressed and felt lonely.

We tend to take people’s personal – assuming they are unfriendly and don’t like us.

Don’t wait for people to come to you when you’re depressed. Let your friends know that you appreciate them and like them. Tell them that you are going through tough times and any bad mood is because of that, NOT because of them.

8. “I think I wouldn’t be ignored if I was more good-looking”

I often thought that I was ignored because I had a big nose. It couldn’t be further from the truth: Sometimes our looks becomes an excuse instead of dealing with the actual causes. (Causes I’ve described in this article).

Read my article here on looks and social life for a scientific look into how looks affect our social life.

How to participate in group conversations when you dislike attention

Avoiding the spotlight and zoning out in group conversations

This is the third part of my email series on group conversations.

Here are the previous parts:

Part 1: How to be part of the group without saying anything smart or funny
Part 2: How to be part of a conversation when you just don’t feel like it

Yesterday I had an eye-opening coaching session with a client.

He told me how he zoned out in conversations. I’ve met with him before, and nothing had given him great results.

Finally, after an hour of coaching, we finally arrived at the core of the problem:

The real reason he zoned out in group conversations was that he, deep down, didn’t want to be put in the spotlight.

It’s like when the teacher asked a question in class and you didn’t know the answer, so you pretended to be deep into your book.

So as a new task, we agreed that the next step for him would be to practice formulating his thoughts and responses in his head, rather than trying to avoid it all together by escaping the conversation mentally. That way he could start participating more in conversations.

These tricks we play on ourselves aren’t obvious. It took hours for me and my client to get to the core.

In psychology, this phenomenon is well-known. It’s called an avoidance behavior: It’s a subtle thing we do, often subconsciously, to avoid our fears.

It could be…

The only way to deal with this is to consciously meet and face the fear of participating in a conversation.

No! I’m not going to have a few glasses before I go to the party. I’m going to deal with my nervousness.

(Read more here about how to deal with nervosity.)

When it comes to zoning out to not be in the spotlight, the way to face our fear is to…

  1. Be aware that it’s happening (I’m zoning out to avoid the spotlight)
  2. Face your fear in small steps (Do something that gives you slightly more of the spotlight than usual)
  3. Gradually face your fear (Practice sharing thoughts and opinions in your head during the group conversation)
  4. Engage in the conversation despite it being scary (Act with fear)

Can you come up with some of your own avoidance behaviors?

Writing down the ways our brain avoids fear is powerful to become confident and improve socially. When we finally face our fears like this, that’s when they start to dissolve.

To start chipping away at your avoidance behaviors, leave a comment and let me know about something you do to avoid your fears.

How to be part of the group without saying anything smart or funny

socializing


Most of my life, I’ve been torn like the girl in the comic above.

I don’t want to stay home and feel lonely, and I don’t want to go to a party and feel awkward and exhausted by all the interaction.

It’s human to not want to go to some high energy, uncomfortable, and loud social place when we’re comfortable at home.

A friend of mine even said:

“Cancelling a plan last minute is like Heroin.”

I was at a meetup last weekend. Two of the participants were each other’s opposites:

One woman was active in the conversation pretty much all the time. (This approach makes people notice you, but it drains your energy.)

Then there was a guy there who kept to himself. He had even brought his laptop and barely said a sentence during the entire weekend. (This is easy, but it makes you unapproachable. No one talked to him, because he didn’t seem interested in socializing.)

Few know that there’s a hack that’s both easy and makes you part of the group.

When I discovered this hack, socializing became so much more enjoyable for me.

At social events, a circle of people often forms after a while. It could be around a dinner table, in the sofas, or people just standing in a circle.

Here’s my hack to make socializing easy:

I go to that group and pay attention to the conversation: I show that I’m listening with facial expressions, laughs, and hums.

Here’s the trick: You don’t need to be funny, talk, or say smart things to be part of a group. As long as you show that you’re interested in the conversation.

People will feel like you’re part of the conversation. They won’t even notice that you actually don’t say much.

Most people fail here because they aren’t good listeners and zone out. If you zone out, you end up in your own world. You don’t laugh when others laugh or react to the conversation. That’s when you come off as distant and weird. People will assume you don’t want to talk to them, so they’ll avoid you.

But if you show that you are engaged in the conversation, even if you don’t say anything, you come off as approachable. Imagine how much energy it will save you when all you have to do is to listen rather than constantly having to come up with things to say.

But David, people will think I’m weird if I don’t say anything!

In a group conversation, only one can talk at the time. This means that at any given time, everyone but one is listening. We only come off as weird if we stop listening and reacting to the conversation. If you join their world by reacting to the conversation, you’ll fit right in.

Still don’t believe me? Do this: Pay attention to others in group conversations who are reactive, and notice how they feel like part of the group of friends even when they don’t say anything.

Whenever I have the opportunity to go somewhere but I don’t feel like socializing, I tell myself this: David, go there, approach a group conversation, and just listen and react. That’s all you need to do. Listen and react.

Then, when I’m there, the group often touches on some subject I’m interested in and want to join in about. And if nothing comes up, I’ll still come across as an approachable and outgoing person.

To prepare yourself to try this hack: First, think about when you last canceled plans to some social event without a reason. How did you feel about the event before you canceled? What excuses popped up in your head?

Now, the next time you get that feeling before an event, remind yourself of the hack: Approach a group conversation, listen, and react.

To improve your chances of success, write down in the comments one time you’ve canceled an event without a good reason. This will help you be more aware of your actions, which is powerful when it comes to improving. It will also help inspire others in the community who can relate.

Image credit: https://www.instagram.com/shreyadoodles/

Being “the new one” in a group of people

being the new one in a group

​A while ago a new guy moved into my co-living house.

He told me that he moved here because it got lonely in his apartment and he wanted to make new friends.

The funny thing is that he almost never socializes with us. I think the reason is that he’s a bit socially anxious.

However, there’s this girl in the house who’s even more socially anxious. You could notice when she was new here how her voice was shaking when she talked.

Now she’s part of the family. But on the other hand, the guy still doesn’t know anyone.

I feel for the guy. It’s hard to socialize when you feel anxious. But it’s really hard to get close to him when he seems distant and cold in his answers.

  • The girl’s strategy: It’s more important to socialize than to come off as cool
  • The guy’s strategy: It’s more important to come off as cool than to socialize

(Read our guide about socializing here.)

When I first spoke to the girl, I thought “She’s a bit nervous. But she seems friendly towards us, and I like her”.

Because the guy keeps to his side, people get suspicious toward him and keep their distance.

People don’t take offense if you’re nervous. (Click here to learn how to not be nervous around people.)

People do take offense if you don’t come off as friendly.

LESSON LEARNED:

The one who comes off as friendly but nervous wins over the one who comes off as cool but reserved.

Why? Because when you’re reserved, people will automatically assume that you don’t like them.

On the other hand, if you show that you’re friendly but also come off as anxious, people will take you under their arms. Everyone can relate to feeling anxious at times.

What’s your strategy when you’re “the new one”? Let me know in the comments!

How to be included in a conversation with a group of friends

Include in group conversations

How do you avoid getting pushed out of a group conversation and suddenly realize you’re nothing more than a spectator of people talking? Today, I want to share a method that you can use to be included in a conversation with a group of friends.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article that a lot of you told me you liked, called “How do you join a group conversation if you’re not supposed to interrupt?”.

That article focused on how to join a conversation. Today’s article will build on that one and focus on how to in a natural way remain part of an ongoing conversation – and even be the center of it or the leader of it if that’s something you’d like to be.

I have a friend, Nils, who’s really socially savvy. I’ve studied his manner whenever he’s in a group conversation. Even though he talks less than most do, every group includes him in whatever conversation he joins.

After having him as a close friend for a few years, and after spending countless of hours in group conversations with him, I’ve figured out what he does differently from almost everyone else.

Nils is one of the best people I’ve seen when it comes to including others in whatever he’s talking about.

The other day, he, I, and some of our friends made plans for this summer. (We’re going to a festival called Borderland, which is the European version of Burning Man.)

When he started talking, it went something like this.

“David talked before about renting an RV and I like that idea. But as Emma said before, we might still need a tent. Andreas, what do you think about an RV?”

It took me a long time to realize this, but Nils often takes the role of a facilitator, making sure that everyone’s heard.

The 5 effects of this method that makes people want to include you in the group:

1. People react to their names

Because it’s a part of Nils’ way of communicating, to often mention people’s names, everyone listens to him.

2. People love being listened to

Because Nils often summarizes and refers back to what people have said, he comes off as a good listener.

3. People get tired of hearing other’s opinions

Nils mainly communicate by talking about other people’s experiences, ideas or opinions. If he has a different idea, he lifts up someone’s idea and modifies it rather than start talking about his own stuff. While some people come off as self-centered, Nils gives the opposite impression (and because of that, people listen to his ideas).

4. Reciprocity

One of the fundamental principles of human psychology is the idea of reciprocity: If you give something to someone, they want to give back. If you include and lift up someone and what they say, they want to do the same to you.

Because Nils includes others, they subconsciously include him: When others are talking, it feels natural for them to direct their conversation towards Nils.

5. Leadership

A person who becomes the “facilitator” of the group is automatically seen as the leader of that group. This is because a facilitator, just like a leader, seems to grasp and understand the entire situation you’re in.

This method of inclusion and facilitation works great even if you’re in a group of friends you don’t know.

You can just point in someone’s direction and say “You said before that you wanted to go to a café rather than a restaurant. How do the rest of you feel about cafés?”.

Other ways to include people are to pick up on if someone got interrupted or wasn’t heard:

“Rebecka, you were saying something before, you had an idea regarding the camp site?”

“John said something great before you arrived, Liza. He said that[…]”

If someone’s trying to join the conversation, you want to include that person whenever there’s a chance. I like to summarize the current topic and follow up with a question.

“We’re talking about movies from the nineties. Do you remember if Die Hard is from the nineties or eighties?”

Now, the person you included will get a good feeling about you from the get-go.

[You might also want to check out my guide on how to find friends who are more like you.]

When I started off using this method of inclusion and facilitation, I could sometimes over-do it. If you only communicate by including others and summarizing the conversation, it gets artificial and weird. More isn’t always better.

Instead of trying to maximize inclusion, it’s enough to remember to include and summarize whenever it fits the situation. And then, you can share your experiences, stories, or opinions. Because you included other’s before, they’ll want to listen to you and make sure that you’re included back in the group.

Have you used this method? Do you perhaps know someone who’s good at including others? What’s that person’s conversations like? Let me know in the comments below!

How to join a group conversation (without being awkward)

How do you enter a group conversation or join the ongoing conversation between others? On one hand you’re not supposed to interrupt people, but on the other hand, someone else always seems to start talking before you get the chance to say anything.

In this article, I give you 4 powerful techniques you can use to enter and be part of an ongoing conversation without being rude.

1. To join a group conversation, use this subconscious signaling first

A few days ago, a friend invited me to a mingle his company arranged.

I spoke to one girl there who was really fun and interesting.

If I had left the mingle at that point, I would have described her as socially savvy.

But later, in a group conversation, she just couldn’t get in despite repeatedly trying to say something.

Man trying to enter conversation spends few minutes smiling and nodding at edge of circle

How come?

Well, the rules behind 1 on 1’s and group conversations are different.

The nature of group conversations mean that there will almost always be someone who starts talking just when you are about to

In group conversations, you’re competing for attention from several others. You need a different skill set from 1 on 1 conversations to get people’s attention (without coming off as attention seeking!)

Here’s an example.

Even if only 1 in 5 of the population are bad at paying attention to others, a group of 5 will on average include someone saying something just before you are about to chime in.

Lesson learned:

The girl at the mingle waited for her “turn”. But you can’t wait for others to stop talking before you signal that you want “in”.

At the same time, you can’t blatantly interrupt people.

We want to signal without interrupting

Here’s my trick that works surprisingly well: At the very moment someone’s finished talking and I want to join the conversation, I breathe in quickly (like you do before you’re about to say something) and make a gesture with my hand.

Look at this screenshot from a dinner we recorded for one of our courses. When I breathe in, the people around me subconsciously register that I’m about to start talking. My hand gesture triggers people’s motion sensing, and everyone’s eyes are drawn towards me. The hand motion has the advantage of working even in loud environments.

David gestures to enter a group conversation

By simply breathing in through my mouth and raising my hand, everyone refocuses their attention from the guy in red to me.

2. To join the ongoing conversation, up your energy.

When a lot of people meet the energy level in the room tends to be higher, The more high energy, the more it’s about entertainment and having fun, and less about getting to know people in depth.

Lesson learned:

The girl was still in the “1 on 1 mode”, waiting too long before talking.

It means that it’s OK if you happen to cut someone off a bit too soon. To be clear, you don’t want to interrupt people, but you want to cut the corners a bit tighter than in 1 on 1’s.

There’s a third big difference we need understand to be able to join in on an ongoing conversation:

3. The way you listen, not how much you talk, decides if people see you as part of the conversation

In one on one’s, each person usually talks around 50% of the time. However, in a group conversation of 3, each person will only be able to talk 33% of the time. In a conversation of 10, only 10% of the time and so on.

This means that the more people in the group, the more time you spend listening. This is natural.

Therefore, we need to step up our listening game.

I noticed how the girl’s gaze wandered off after a while. That’s natural to do if you can’t get into the conversation, but it created the feeling that she wasn’t part of the group. I probably spent 90% of the time just listening to others in that group. But I kept eye contact, nodded and reacted to what was being said. That way, it felt like I was part of the conversation the whole time. Therefore, people who talked directed a lot of their attention towards me.

Lesson learned

As long as you are involved in what is being said and show it with your body language, people will see you as part of the conversation even if you actually don’t say much.

4. Don’t try to lead group conversations

Socially successful people should always take the lead, right?

Not quite. People who try to push their own agenda in conversations and talk about what they think is interesting instead of picking up on what others like talking about tend to be annoying.

When you’re talking to someone 1 on 1, it’s just the two of you creating the conversation together. You can try taking it in a new direction to see if the other person is following, and that’s a great way to progress and get to know each other.

This isn’t how joining ongoing conversation works.

Here, we need to follow in on the topic instead of leaving it. (This is why it’s important to truly listen, like I talked about in the previous tip.)

Imagine you’re in a group conversation deeply emerged in, say, a horror story about backpacking in Thailand. Here, you don’t want to break in by starting to talk about your delightful vacation in Hawaii. Your Hawaii experience might be a great topic for later, but when you’re just about to join a conversation, you want to be close to the current subject and its emotion.

In this example, Hawaii is close enough to the subject, but the emotion of it doesn’t match up at all (horror story vs having a great time).

Lesson learned

When entering group conversations, don’t depart from the current subject. If I wanted to join that conversation about the backpacking horrors in Thailand, I would start off by showing interest in the topic:

  • How many nights did you have to sleep under that banana leaf? or
  • How long was it before you could treat your spider bite? or
  • Didn’t it hurt to amputate your leg?

Well, you get the point.

[Here is a BIG list with small talk questions you can ask friends.]

Do you have any horror stories about joining a group conversation? Or do you have any good experiences or tips you want to share about it? I’m excited to hear about it in the comments!