How do you enter a group conversation or join an 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. What can you do about it?
In this article, I’m going to give you tips and powerful techniques you can use to enter and be part of an ongoing conversation without being rude.
You’ll learn how to approach a new group of people and how to be a part of the conversation.
When we meet people, we tend to assume that we stand out more than we really do. Psychologists call this the spotlight effect, and it can make us feel awkward in social situations. When we feel self-conscious, it’s hard to approach a group because we assume that they will judge us negatively.
To overcome the spotlight effect, it can help to focus on what people say and allow yourself to become curious about them. This takes your mind off your self-critical thoughts.
For example, if someone is telling the group that they’ve just moved house, you could ask yourself:
- Where did they move from?
- Why did they choose to move now?
- Are they doing any renovations?
You don’t have to ask all these questions — in fact, you probably won’t have the chance — but this technique can help you feel more at ease and join a conversation without being awkward. Read this guide for more tips: how not to be awkward at parties.
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.
Well, the rules behind 1 on 1’s and group conversations are different. When you understand the differences, you’ll know how to talk in a group in a way that means people will listen to you.
The nature of group conversations means that there will almost always be someone who starts talking just when you are about to speak.
In group conversations, you’re competing for attention from several others. If you want to get peoples’ attention (without coming off as attention-seeking!), the skill set you use for 1 on 1 conversations won’t work. You need to try different tactics.
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 usually have someone saying something just before you are about to chime in.
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.
By simply breathing in through my mouth and raising my hand, everyone refocuses their attention from the guy in red to me.
When a lot of people meet, the energy level in the room tends to be higher. High-energy gatherings are generally about having fun and entertaining each other and less about getting to know people on a deep level.
High-energy people are talkative, happy to take up space, and tend to assume that everyone else will like and accept them. Here’s how to be a high energy person socially if you’re low energy.
The girl was still in the “1 on 1 mode”, waiting too long before talking.
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 corners a bit tighter than in 1 on 1’s. Being part of a group conversation requires you to be more assertive when you speak up.
The way you listen, not how much you talk, determines whether people see you as part of the conversation
In one on one conversations, 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 directed a lot of their attention towards me when they spoke.
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.
Read more: How to be included and talk in a group.
To make sure everyone in the group can hear you, you need to speak more loudly than you would in a 1 on 1 conversation. If you are quiet, other people are more likely to speak over you.
The key is to project from your diaphragm rather than your throat and to practice until you feel comfortable varying your voice to suit the situation. Read this guide for tips: 16 ways to speak louder if you have a quiet voice.
If you are already acquainted with the group, here’s how to join a conversation smoothly. Simply ask, “Can I join you?” or “Hey, can I sit with you guys?”
If the conversation stops flowing, say, “So what were you guys talking about?” to get it back on track.
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 an ongoing conversation works.
Here, we need to add to the current topic instead of changing it. (This is why it’s important to truly listen as I said earlier.)
Imagine you’re in a group conversation. Someone is telling a horror story about backpacking in Thailand, and everyone is listening attentively. 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 conversation topic for later, but when you’re just about to join a conversation, respect the subject and mood.
In this example, your Hawaii trip is a close subject match, but the emotional tone of the story doesn’t match up at all (horror story vs having a great time).
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 when your leg was amputated?
If you’re wondering how to know when to join in a conversation, look for a group with open body language and a high energy level. These are good indicators that they welcome you into their conversation. People in a high-energy group tend to smile, laugh, speak quickly and loudly, and gesture when they talk.
Check how much space there is between group members. The looser the group, the easier it will be to join it. In general, it’s best to avoid small groups of people who are sitting or standing very close together, especially if they are talking in low voices because this suggests they are having a serious or private conversation.
If you have a lot of anxiety talking to people, you might find it hard to accurately read body language and facial expressions. Research shows that people with social anxiety tend to interpret neutral faces as hostile.
You can teach yourself more about body language and facial expressions by using online resources like this article or by reading a book on nonverbal communication. See our recommended books on body language.
This gives you an opportunity to join in the conversation naturally by asking a question or making a comment about what the group is doing. This strategy works best at parties where there are usually lots of different activities going on.
For example, if several people are mixing cocktails together, you could say something like, “Hey, that drink is a cool color! What is it?” Or, if a group is playing a game, wait until the current round is finished and say, “What game are you playing?” or “I love that game, can I join the next round?”
Do you have any horror stories about joining a group conversation? Or do you have any good experiences or tips you want to share? I’m excited to hear from you in the comments!