Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hi, I'm New Here.

I was raised in the Navy. By the time I left home for college, I had lived with my family in 12 different cities and attended 11 different schools. Being the new girl is so familiar to me that I sometimes have a hard time knowing what to do with myself around people I've known for longer than about 2 years. Growing up, by the time I'd known anyone for that long, not only did it feel like an eternity but it was time to say "goodbye".

Being the new girl is familiar to me, yes, but I'm here to tell you it never ever gets easier. Not without a healthy dose of self-confidence and some sound advice on how to navigate unfamiliar territory. And while I'm hardly a social butterfly (that self-confidence stuff can get tricky, you know?!) there are a few things I've learned about dealing with new situations that maybe you can use, too.

Take a deep breath and smile.
This one never gets old, and it always always helps. I'm not a naturally smiley person, but when a good friend told me that when we first met she thought I was a snob, I was shocked. And then I realized that I'd been so nervous about being new, it came across in my face as, well, snobbish. An honest smile will help ease your tension in a new situation and it will lead people to believe you're comfortable, even if you're not.

Stop, look, and listen.
In a new environment, take a minute to look around yourself and get your bearings. Know where the center of attention is (so that you can choose to be a part of it or try and avoid it), and be aware of your nearest exit (just in case!). And listen, listen, listen. Definitely, you want to open your mouth and say "hello" to people - you don't want to seem aloof - but always keep your ears open, too. The quicker you can get familiar with your surroundings, the quicker you'll feel comfortable in them.

Ask, don't tell. And listen some more.
This is probably one of my biggest social hurdles. When I'm nervous, I will either clam up completely or my mouth will run off with the conversation. The worst part about it is that I know when it's happening but I will either simply fail to come up with something to say, or I will find myself unable to just. stop. talking. Still, these things take practice. The point is, people like to talk about themselves, and they like people who ask them to. So be an asker. If you come up with a question that seems to nosy, try prefacing it with an apology or a way out ("You don't have to answer this if it's too personal, but I was wondering ...") and ask it anyway. Then listen, listen, listen, to at least enough so that you can follow up with another question. At the very least, people will know you're interested in them, and that's always good for a new girl.

It doesn't take a big impression to leave a lasting impression.
This is sort of another way of saying: be yourself. If I learned anything at all from all that bouncing around I did as a child, this is it: know who you are and then don't try to be anything else for the sake of making an impressive impression. There are so many ways that can backfire, it's always best to be true to yourself. And remember what Lena Horne sang to Grover, because it's really that simple: "People know you by the little things you do. Show someone you care; watch them care for you."

Have any other tips for grace in a new - or awkward - social situation? Please enlighten the rest of us with a comment!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice! My husband had problems with people thinking he was a snob too. He is somewhat shy and nervous in large group social situations (ie: High School). He only found out after High School that people thought he was a snob. It's too bad no one told him to smile at a younger age.