“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” as the song says. And a big part of what makes it so wonderful for many are all the Christmas Parties.
There’s the thrill of the social whirl, the glamour, the lights, the socialising. Catching up with friends far and wide, sharing all the latest gossip, sharing plans for the festive season, showing off new outfits, and generally taking full advantage of every opportunity to socially recharge to the max.
Unfortunately, for introverts, it’s not always that easy.
Yes, it’d be nice to be able to enjoy going to parties, but they can just be so, well, draining! All that endless small-talk, bouncy bubbly strangers demanding attention the whole time, the non-stop noise and chatter… Parties are not the easiest of things when you are an introvert.
That’s not to say introverts hate socialising – Indeed many introverts like the occasional party or catching up with people, but it’s the constant onslaught of socialising crammed into the period which can be particularly draining (on the other hand, it’s such an energising time for extroverts!)
So, if you are an introvert, what can you do to successfully survive the endless rounds of Christmas Parties without appearing to be a total recluse and without becoming totally drained and mentally exhausted?
Here’s some Christmas Party Survival tips!
Know in advance when you will leave.
Pacing yourself is so important. If you are running a race, it is helpful to know before you start whether it is a 100m sprint, or a full marathon. You’ll have a different approach to it accordingly.
It’s the same with parties. Know in advance how long you’ll be there, and you can plan accordingly. If it’s only an hour, then you can go full-on for the hour. If it’s a 6 hour evening, then you can adjust your plan, and you can also keep an eye on the time as the evening progresses, knowing how long or little you’ve got left until you can leave and relax.
Arrange to have a “Christmas party buddy”
Sometimes it’s great to be meeting and chatting with new people. And sometimes you just need the reassuring presence of a familiar face. If possible, arrange to go with a friend, and agree to “catch up” a few times during the party. They can be a great way to grab a few minutes to relax in familiar company. They can also provide a great “excuse” for an escape – “It’s been lovely meeting you, please excuse me, I have to go and catch up with xxx over there”. Extroverts will understand, they use that sort of get-out all the time anyway!
Spot “safe spaces” early on
By “safe spaces” I just mean looking for places where you might be able to grab a few minutes peace and quiet to rest, gather your thoughts, do an emergency recharge, and get ready to face the next “round”. This might be a quiet spot in the venue, or it could be a place on a balcony looking at a nice view, or it might be a comfy chair slightly apart from any others, or even the spot where the dog or cat hangs out! Never underestimate the restorative powers of chatting with the dog as you stroke it for 5 minutes.
Be happy to “observe”.
This you can do from a “safe space”, or from anywhere. Just realise that you do not have to spend the whole time making small-talk with person after person. It’s perfectly acceptable to perhaps take a few minutes out, find a secluded spot away from the action, and just quietly and casually observe what’s going on. Really notice what you can notice. Soon you may start to see some of the group dynamics. You might spot safe spaces you’d missed, or see potentially interesting groups forming. Perhaps you may also start to spot fellow introverts doing the same, for you are not alone in this!
Look for those “holding court”.
There will usually be a few people who do a lot more talking than the rest. The almost look as though they are holding court in their group, enthralling everyone else with their tales of adventure. If you are looking for a good way to pass some time without having to take part in conversation, these can be a godsend! You won’t be expected to do much talking (you might not even get a word in edgeways if you tried!), but as long as you pick the right one (which is where observing comes in) you stand a very good chance of being entertained. And it gives you something to talk about with others when the time comes.
Mix it up.
One thing extroverts do really well at parties is being able to flit from person to person, group to group, conversation to conversation. Which often never even occurs to introverts, as generally we prefer the more intimate contact with a small for an extended time, so we can really get to an in-depth discussion about a mutually-interesting topic. However, parties are not usually a source of such conversations, so when you feel a conversation has reached its natural end, you can’t think of anything to say, just move to another one. People will understand – it’s generally how they work anyway.
Have some good conversation finishers.
So you need to escape from a boring or dying conversation, but you don’t want to appear rude. What do you do? You need some good conversation finishers! Remember, at parties people generally expect to socialise and to circulate, so they are already expecting conversations to be relatively short affairs. You may well find the other person ends the conversation and moves on, especially at Christmas parties where the aim is to catch up with everyone. Don’t think them rude, it’s nothing against you, they are just keen to circulate and catch up with as many people there as possible! However, if you find the need to end one, have a supply of easy to use, inoffensive enders. Such as “It’s been lovely to meet you”. Or “Please excuse me, I need to catch up with xxx”. Or any other ones you can think of. Perhaps have a few ready in advance to make it easier.
If the thought of walking into a room full of complete strangers who all seem to know each other fills you with dread, try arriving to the Christmas party early. This way, there are fewer people. Which can make it easier as an introvert to start to get to know at least a few of your fellow guests. As the room fills up, you won’t be amongst strangers; you’ll have at least a nodding acquaintance with some of your fellow guests, which can make all the difference as the evening wears on.
Or arrive late!
Of course, for others, the idea of being with a small group of strangers is scarier or more draining than being with a large group. With a large group there are more options and plenty of ways to “hide in the crowd”. Whereas with a small group there’s no escape. So arriving at the Christmas party later (don’t all the best people arrive fashionably late anyway?) and just throwing yourself in can sometimes work wonders. As with everything, it’s all about going with what’s most comfortable for you. Or at the very least, going with what’s least uncomfortable!
Remember everyone’s favourite topic of conversation.
This is a biggie. Want to be known as a great conversationalist? Want to be able to get really good conversations going without having to do much? Simply get people talking about their favourite topic. And in the occasional lull simply ask a question which lets them talk more about what they said. This way, you can learn a lot about people, you don’t have to actually do much of the talking, and you can get a bit of a rest. And people will think you are a great conversationalist at the same time. What is that one topic of conversation? The one which is pretty much everyone’s favourite? Themselves! Ask people something about themselves, and then stand back and let them talk.
Alcohol. The cause of, and solution to, life’s problems, as Homer Simpson once observed. It can certainly help to take the edge off things in potentially uncomfortable social situations for some people, of course. And let’s face it, if there’s one thing above all you’ll find at Christmas Parties, it’s alcohol! However, remember to be very mindful of how much you are drinking. When we are nervous or anxious, we can inadvertently drink a lot more than we might be expecting to drink. And whilst a drink or even two can take the edge off and help you to feel a little more comfortable, too much runs the risk of actually making you a lot worse – nobody wants to be remembered as That Drunken Mess at the party!
Avoid relying on others for transport.
Sometimes, despite the best of plans and intentions, the vibe is just not right and you may feel you would be better off cutting your losses and leaving early. Which is a problem if you are sharing transport – either driving others or getting a lift from others. If you can, make your own transport arrangements, or at the very least be aware of alternatives you could use if you do need to cut and run. You’d be surprised how often just knowing you are not “trapped” can make the event seem a lot less scary. You’ll often find you don’t end up leaving the Christmas party early. Instead, you can relax and enjoy it more knowing that the option is there if you need it.
Arrange for a friend to phone you.
If all else fails, and you want to make sure you have a cast-iron get-out, you can rely on a friend. Just ask them to call you at a pre-arranged time. If you are enjoying yourself, you can ignore the call or answer it very briefly. If you are not enjoying yourself, then you can use the call as an excuse to have to leave early. Again, probably not something you’ll use much, but it’s always nice to know you have the option. A variation on this is to have a friend you can subtly send a text to and have them call you 5 minutes later. Works just as well. An old one, to be sure, but sometimes you just can’t beat the classics! Tip – you can even get apps for your smartphone to simulate an incoming call either at a specified time, or on demand, if you prefer.
Whatever your situation as an introvert, you’ll find one or more of these tips will either help you directly, or will spark off your creativity enabling you to come up with some great strategies of your own. There’s no one-size-fits-all, different approaches will work for different people. The key is to read through them, see which ones resonate with you, pick the ones which feel right, and have fun playing with them. Indeed, making a game out of it, turning your party experience into a testing ground to trial different approaches, can also be a great way to handle them!
For some people, of course, it is not introversion which holds them back. Rather, for some, it is a deeper issue, social anxiety or even social phobia. This is where it’s not just draining going to parties, the thought itself is actually terrifying.
That is a whole different ballgame, and certainly one with which I can empathise. I spent far too many years being terrified of the thought of speaking to strangers in the past!
The good news is that even that does not have to be the case forever. You can change. I know I certainly did, and countless clients have done so over the years too.
If that is something you’d like to explore, let’s have a chat.
Award-winning coach, international speaker, multi-time best-selling author, hypnotist, occasional magician, and writer of this post, Keith spent his first 40 years suffering from several phobias including being terrified of speaking with strangers. After one incident too many, he started studying and training in NLP & hypnosis to conquer his own issues, found he was rather good at it, and changed careers (aided by redundancy at just the right moment after 20 years in IT). He helps people transform their deepest fears into their greatest strengths, and having helped over 5,000 people across 5 continents, he is the UK’s #1 Fear Strategist.