How To Join A Conversation

Elsewhere in this section of the site I talk about various ways to start conversations. A lot of what I say there applies here as well. This article will very quickly cover ways to join a conversation that's already going on, which is a slightly different topic. Probably when most people think of this issue, they picture themselves at a party and wanting to get in with a circle of people who are already talking. There are more day-to-day occasions where we may want to join a conversation as well, like at a new job or hobby club where we want to talk to a group of our co-workers or fellow members.

Before trying to talk to a group of people you have to try to get a sense of how open or closed off they are. Some groups will consist of close friends who are busy discussing topics that are exclusive to them. Others will be happy to have someone new join them. However, if you can't get a proper read on them, and accidentally try and join their conversation, it's not the worst thing that can happen.

Group discussions involve everyone talking to everyone else, so however it is you get into one, continue to support that dynamic. Don't slip into a group, begin chatting up only one person in it, and ignore the others.

Saddle up to the group, listen to the conversation for a bit, and then make a contribution when it's appropriate

This is a popular strategy. The heading pretty much explains what you need to do. Sometimes this involves physically joining a circle of people who are talking, or sitting down with them. You may be able to do this silently, or it may be appropriate to give a quick 'hi' or nod to everyone. If you know someone in the group you can give them a quiet greeting, and then take a spot beside them. In other situations, say while sitting in a break room at work, you may not actually join a group, but be near them and able to hear their conversation. Either way, once you hear a chance to add something relevant, you can jump in with your contribution, and then be part of the discussion. Make sure you wait for a small pause before you interject. You don't want to blatantly cut anyone off.

Introduce yourself to everyone

At parties, mixers, or networking events it's often okay to just go up to a group of people and quickly introduce yourself if they seem friendly and open. A "Hey, how's it going everyone? I'm Heather" is all you need. Inserting yourself into a discussion can change its course though, by putting the focus on you, or causing everyone to ask getting-to-know-you questions. Sometimes you want to introduce yourself, but also not interrupt too much. You can quickly give your name, then say something like, "Anyway, what you were guys talking about before?"

Start a conversation with the group the same as you would a single person

This can work with groups of strangers at events like parties. Assuming the group seems open to being approached, you can use the types of conversation starters this article covers. Instead of speaking to one person you just address the group as a whole. You'll need to size them up and try to get a feeling for what type of opening line they'd be receptive to. Some examples:

"Mind if I sit here?"

If you're already sort of friendly with a group of people who are sitting around and talking, sometimes you can join their conversation by asking if you can sit down and join them. The situations I'm thinking of are someone at work who sees a bunch of co-workers they'd like to get to know better eating lunch together, or a college student who spots a group of acquaintances in the campus cafeteria. Once you sit down they'll either start chatting to you directly, or they'll continue with what they were talking about, but now you're part of it. This may seem intrusive, but the idea is you only do it with people you're already pretty sure would be open to you joining them.

Start talking to one person in the group to get your foot in the door

If you see a larger group of people there may be someone on the periphery who's focused on something else, or who looks left out or uninterested in the topic everyone's discussing. If you strike up a conversation with that person, you may be able to then turn your attention to the larger group and transition to speaking to all of them. Only try this on people who seem unengaged. If someone is clearly interested and participating in the conversation, don't try to suck them away.

A similar strategy is to wait until one group member is one their own (e.g., they've gotten up at a party to grab a drink). You can start talking to them when they're alone, and then join the rest of their friends with them later.

Join the conversation by way of an activity

At a parties there are often activities going on such as beer pong, video games, card games, or board games. Sometimes you can get a conversation going by quietly joining in the activity, say by assuming a spot at the table when a game of flip cup is announced. Then as things get underway you'll naturally have opportunities to talk to the other people who are playing. At a pub you could ask a group if they want to play some doubles pool or Foosball.

When a group isn't receptive to you

People sometimes worry that if they get turned away from a group that they'll be rejected in a really harsh, humiliating way. Usually this doesn't happen, especially if you're just approaching them to be friendly and not aggressively hitting on them or anything. Most commonly what will happen is they'll respond to you in a token, non-committal way, then resume talking to each other and leave you standing there on the sidelines. At this point most people will get the message and quietly move on. It's a bit awkward when it happens, but hardly a scathing cut down. To an outside viewer it doesn't look like much happened either.

Of course, this isn't to be confused with when the group allows you to join, but just doesn't make a ton of effort to include you in the conversation, because they expect you to take the initiative to get yourself into it. In that case you'll just end up being the quiet person on the periphery. In that case if you're feeling left out and rejected, it's more in your own mind. They'd be happy to have you in the discussion, you just have to put in the effort.