An Introvert’s Guide To Surviving Social Functions

An Introvert's Guide To Surviving Social FunctionsFor this introvert, there isn’t much that will send my anxiety levels through the roof like a dinner party or other social gathering. I enjoy opening our home to others, but sometimes the pressure to keep the conversation going makes me wish I was hanging out with a book instead of the people I invited. And when I’m  going to a social function? Yikes. I never know whether it would be better to arrive a tiny bit early and only have to engage in conversation with the host or to arrive late and have to choose which conversation to weasel my way into.

Over the years, I’ve developed some strategies to make social functions less stressful. Without further ado, I give you:

An Introvert’s Guide To Surviving Social Functions

If You’re The Host

  • Recruit Backup: A Bread and Wine book club meets at my house every week. Our first gathering was an informal dinner a few weeks ago. My extroverted co-leader couldn’t make it last minute, which sent me into introvert anxiety mode. What if I couldn’t keep the conversation flowing? What if no one talked? How should I segue into our get-to-know you questions smoothly? I S.O.S.ed  a friend to help if I started to flounder with the conversation. Just knowing she knew my predicament and was willing to throw out a life preserver or two calmed my nerves. There’s no shame in having a wingman.
  • Have a Soundtrack: Introverts don’t mind silence but it can make others uncomfortable. Music helps fill dead air if you can’t think of anything to say and provides a nice ambience. It can also be a good conversation starter, even if you don’t quite know what you’re talking about. Example – “Do you like the new Civil Wars album? Seems to be getting mixed reviews…” or “How about those Norwegian brothers, eh?” (Vegard and Bård, the two who brought us What Does The Fox Say). Spotify is my favorite resource for music and creating playlists. Ten dollars a month (or sign up for the free 30 day trial just before your shindig) gives you access to virtually any song with no commercials. iTunes Radio and Pandora are also good options.
  • Invite Extroverts: You’ve taken the bold step to host a social function, don’t add the stress of carrying the conversation to your plate. Having people in your house may be stretching your social limits enough. Make sure your guest list includes a few people who could make conversation with a tree stump. You could even ask them to arrive a bit early so they can share the task of greeting and making guests feel at home.
  • Divide Your Assets: So you’ve invited the extroverts. Good. Don’t seat them all together at the table! Place cards are fun and allow you to be strategic for the sake of conversation. Spread those extroverts out so the natural talkers aren’t just talking to one another, leaving half the table either staring awkwardly at each other or listing to one side as they eavesdrop.
  • Utilize Conversation Starters: If starting a conversation doesn’t come easy to you, use obvious conversation starters (ice breaker questions) to get people’s lips moving. I love (affiliate link) Table Topics for purposeful conversation starters or you can come up with your own. Place one at each seat and give your guests the freedom to ask their question at will. This approach makes the conversation starters feel more like a game instead of a social crutch. The burden of conversation will be on guests and they’ll have fun quizzing their fellow attendees.

If You’re The Guest

  • Go With A Friend: Showing up with someone you know guarantees you aren’t left standing in a corner by yourself or awkwardly trying to make small talk. Bonus points if they’re an extrovert and can help you engage with the other guests. Sometimes we introverts just need an introduction and little help getting started.
  • Do Your Homework: If possible, find out who is attending before hand and let the Facebook stalking commence. You will feel more comfortable being able to recognize folks even if you’ve never officially met. Plus, the more you know about people, the easier it is to come up with questions to ask. (Asking questions is an introvert’s secret weapon). Just try not to be creepy about it. If you saw they went apple picking last weekend, go for, “What’s your favorite thing to do around here in the Fall?” not “Did you make pie with those Golden Delicious apples?”.
  • Don’t Waste Your Wit: While we’re talking about social media… Many introverts find it easier to express themselves via social media than in person. They make witty comments and have articulate commentary about current events from the safety of their living room. If this is you, consider going on a social media fast for a few days before the event. Save up those astute observations and smart opinions for when you need to make conversation in person. Write them down when they come to mind. I wouldn’t even judge if you took a small stack of cue cards with you to examine in the bathroom if your mind suddenly turns to Jello.
  • Preparation is key: Everyone made fun of poor Mr. Collins who amused himself by “arranging little elegant compliments based on previous study”, but I think his tactic is genius. Think through some potential conversation topics. Watch/read the news so you know what’s going on in the World. Do your homework (See point 2). Just remember, manners shouldn’t seem rehearsed. To give your conversation “as unstudied an air as possible,” role play with an obliging friend or your mirror.

The bottom line: The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable you will be in social settings. Do the things you need to do to make yourself confident and comfortable.

Are You and introvert? What are your best tips for surviving social functions?

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

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Can introverts and extroverts actually do life together?

Expanded discussion guides for Bread and Wine{This post was prompted by a question in Bread and Wine discussion guide, part 2.}

After planning for an hour or so our conversation turned serious. Just a couple feet of table separated us but it felt a little like miles and miles sat between us. As she filled me in on some of the tough stuff that was happening in her life, I sat in silence. My hands rested around my empty coffee cup and I wished there was at least a drop so I could do something other than stare.

I was already formulating what I would say before her voice petered out. In situations like this, my friends are generally looking for advice, so I went about scripting my opinion. It was probably my lack of any response that prompted her to ask, “what do you think?” And the flood gates of my opinion opened on this hurting woman I had only known for a month or two.

My spouting sputtered out and an uncomfortable silence settled. In the batting of one of her long eyelashes she was back to business as usual, firming up the plans we had been discussing previous to her moment of vulnerability. As our meeting drew to a close, I couldn’t ignore that sinking, icky feeling developing in my gut, the sign you know you’ve messed up. I knew I had missed the mark with my response…

Can extroverts do life with introverts?Since reading Shauna Niequist’s first book, Cold Tangerines, I have held her commitment to honesty and vulnerability in the mess of life in high esteem (okay, maybe idolized it a bit). I wanted to be a person who could be real with others and wasn’t afraid to slog through the mud with broken people, my own self included. In my efforts to do life with this new friend, even those messy bits, I hadn’t paused to consider who she was and what she actually needed. I wanted to approach the mess with a vacuum cleaner and make it disappear.

As an introvert, my natural tendency is to listen, observe, analyze, and make suggestions based on those three things. Because I don’t offer a multitude of words, I like to make the one’s I say count. I realized I had pushed my own agenda (in my advice) and my own strengths (in delivery) onto an extrovert who really just needed to verbally process. My mishap made me wonder if it was even possible for someone like me to do life properly with someone like her.

An apology and various discussions later, we are still doing life together. God is teaching me that being messy with people is just that, messy! As much as I’d like to, I can’t just cross “do life together” off my daily chores list. It’s a process, just like life is a process.

And you know what? Our differing personality types had little to do with my missing the mark (as much as I’d like to place the blame somewhere else…). I missed the mark because I wanted to stay comfortable. She was looking for someone to express love and give prayers, not someone to analyze the situation.

Doing life with people is less about compatibility and more about sacrifice and humility.

The mess becomes a beautiful mess when we are able to put our preferences aside, admit our weaknesses, and love others how they need to be loved.

PS – Shauna talks about her own mess-up in ministering to a friend in “Cupcake in The Oven.” (from Bread and Wine)

PPS – This girl and I are still friends and understand each other better and better as we do life together :)

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If you missed them:

Becoming An Expert On My Introvert

My husband is a trooper when it comes to writing guest posts for Primitive Roads. When I did a series on community, he ended up writing What Jane Austen Taught Me About Community. So awesome. This round, I asked him to write a post about being married to an introvert, and here’s what he has to say… (I promise I didn’t ask him to be so sweet!)

Becoming an expert on my introvertI’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test three times.  Twice for class, once for fun. You could say I like to learn about myself and how I think.  Each time I’ve taken the test, it usually says the same thing: I function as an introvert, but I have extroverted tendencies.

When it comes to social situations, I’d much rather stay home and watch a movie or spend time staring at my beautiful wife than be thrust into a situation in which I will have to chat-it-up with people I hardly know.  In fact, I try to avoid those situations if possible (which doesn’t quite work with my profession, a youth pastor).  However, when I can, I recharge alone or, preferably, with only my wife.  This works perfectly, because similarities attracted when my wife and I got together, as she is also an introvert.

You would think that two introverts being married is pure bliss, right?  Two people always ready to share alone space together, perfectly content with recharging in silence. However, Emily is not a borderline introvert like myself.  She is, as she has talked about on her blog before, a full-blown, internal processing, think-before-you-speak introvert.  And I love that about her. I love that she is intentional with her words. I love her processing face (yes, she has one). I love that she is happy simply sitting next to me for hours on end.  This definitely scratches my quality time itch.

But, because my introvertedness looks like extrovertedness compared to my wife, it occasionally produces situations in which my need for talkativeness and her need for silent processing clash.  I might be the first to desire a verbal “we’re ok” after an argument, and Emily might need to continue to think through her thoughts for the rest of the afternoon. Both are valid because both are in line with our personalities.

I have found that in order to communicate properly with my sweet introvert, I need to become an Emily expert.  I need to learn how she ticks, what she needs in order to process (time & space), and when to give her time to recharge.  The more time I spend with her, the more conversations we have regarding our temperaments, the more I get to know how she ticks and what she needs.  And yes, this goes both ways.  Each spouse should become an expert on the other person.

Being an expert on your spouse is very important.  For example:

  • I have learned that after a long day of meetings or other social interactions, I know that Emily needs time to sit in silence.  We’ll watch TV or read a book.  Usually her long days coincide with my long days, so we’ll both function as quality introverts.

  • Being an Emily expert, I know when she shouldn’t schedule meetings (after a long morning at church).  Being a Tim expert, Emily knows when I need to take a break from work.  We use our knowledge together to insure a more harmonized approach to life so we can both be healthy.

While Emily and I have personality differences (life would be boring without them), we work well together – which takes time, conversations, and a lot of grace.  I thank God that He gave me Emily.  She is a blessing to me everyday.  And I couldn’t imagine not being married to this amazing, introverted woman.

TimTim is living the newlywed life in Northern Idaho with his best friend, Emily (me!).  He’s a triathlete, coffee connoisseur, and trumpet/guitar/piano player. Seeing families connect with each other and with God is his passion.  He currently serves as the Youth Pastor at Coeur d’Alene Bible Church.

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Performing The Extrovert

Whenever I forget what personality type I am, I ask A.R. She has an uncanny memory for people’s type, which is good because I always forget whether I’m an N or an S. A.R. is one of my closest friends and happens to be a personality type guru. Not only is she writing about introversion on Primitive Roads today, she’s also guest posting for Kindred Grace about being an ISTJ on October 28th. Don’t miss it!

Performing The Extrovert

I love people’s laughs, people’s genuine laughs. I’m hesitant to say it’s my favorite thing about people, so I’ll just say it’s one of my favorite things. I have a distinct mental image of what each of the people close to me looks like when they laugh. They’re all so different. And all so raw, like little glimpses into parts of us that we don’t consciously make known. It’s an indulgence in a moment that’s like this trifecta of pleasure, relief, and a deepening of friendship.


Figuring out what makes people laugh – I love that too. There are things that you will find that the majority find funny. However, people have very individual senses of humor. Something that makes one person laugh can be offensive to the next. Or even beyond them how what was said could be construed as even remotely humorous. Which is funny.

I am an introvert. However, I have often been mistaken for my counterpart, and understandably so. For if I was not me, but rather, a mere observer of myself watching myself act the way I act in groups, I would probably give the same assessment; I am capable of performing the extrovert, and I do so primarily for the sake of two desired outcomes: relational depth and producing the connection that comes from laughter between individuals.

The modern field of psychology has termed that the “free trait theory.” This theory holds that we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits, however, we can, and do, act out of character for something that we consider important. And because I deeply value close relationships and laughing, I act out this theory; I perform the extrovert. However, at the end of the day, as much as I perform or at certain times desire to be an extrovert, I’m an introvert. American psychologist Barry Schwartz who is quoted in Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, speaks to this as he says, “our inborn temperaments influence us regardless of the life I lead…our free will will only take me so far.”

Sometimes I feel like my iPhone. I see my energy levels in terms of my phone’s battery. Inevitably, my phone will run out of battery and cease to function. And no amount of battery saving tactics will keep it alive longer. Even if I figuratively close all my apps, dim the brightness and put myself on airplane mode, I have to leave and go recharge, or else I’ll die. At the very least, cease to function.  This is why there are times that I have wished I was an extrovert. There are times where I wish that I got energy from doing what I love. Doing one of the things that I love – spending time alone is a close if not better competitor. And in an attempt to resolve this internal conflict, I have spent much time trying to understand the stimulation that I get from my extroverted self. And I have come to the conclusion that in order to live in a world that goes against my inborn temperament, I must be very intentional about how I situate myself in social environments. There are times when I know that I’m not going to be able to recharge for a longer than ideal amount of time, and in those situations I enter in with a pace yourself mindset.

I’ve been called out on this internal conflict on multiple occasions by those close to me. And having this observance voiced has made me rethink my introverted preferences on more than one occasion, and sit with this dichotomous way of being more than I normally would have. And I have come to the conclusion that in order to get to that level of relational depth and that connection that I deeply long for with others, I must balance the extremities of being a social performer and a borderline recluse. I must fight to become more conscious of my ideal situations of stimulation. Which, even after much analysis, never cease to surprise me and leave me realizing that there are so many parts of myself that I have yet to understand and perhaps, even know.

A.R. HamiltonA.R. Hamilton is almost finished with her second Masters Degree from CSU San Bernardino. When she’s done, she’ll have an MA in Education with a focus in curriculum and instruction and concentration in English and an MA in Composition and Rhetoric.  When she’s not in school, A.R. is mentoring high school girls or learning more about personality types. She blogs at Yours January.


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