Hanging Out With New People Who All Know Each Other
A social situation that trips a lot of people up and makes them nervous is when they first have to hang around a group of people who all know each other pretty well. This scenario can come up when:
- You meet a group of your friend's friends
- You meet your partner's friends or co-workers
- You join a team or club where everyone else has been a member for a while
- You start a new job where a bunch the staff seem to be buddies
Sometimes things go off without a hitch. You gel with everyone right away and are welcomed into the fold. When things don't work out so well what often happens is everyone chats among themselves and you're left standing on the sidelines. Most of the time the group isn't purposely trying to be mean and exclusionary. They just know and gravitate to each other. They may be a bit lazy and see getting to know someone new as work, when they could easily hang out with their buddies instead. Some of the members may be a bit shy too, and feel a bit inhibited about engaging someone unfamiliar. On occasion you may do something to make a poor impression as well.
Below is some advice on handling these situations. It focuses on groups you'll see several times, and could potentially become a member of, but the first few points can be used for ones you'll only meet once, but still want to get along with.
Take the initiative and throw yourself in there
Since it's easy for the group to benignly overlook you it's important to take the initiative to try to get to know everyone. Basically, whatever they're doing, put yourself in there and attempt to join their conversation. You almost have to act as if you're already an accepted member of the circle. If everyone is sitting around, then listen to the discussion and chip when you can. If they're all playing video games then grab a controller and take your turn when it comes up. If you're at a nightclub and they're all dancing, or playing pool, or talking on the patio, then that's where you should be.
The biggest barriers to doing this are feeling too shy to put yourself in the middle of things, and feeling like you don't know what to say to everyone. Being able to contribute to the conversation can also be a problem because sometimes everyone will start talking about shared acquaintances, memories, or in-jokes that you don't know about. Don't feel you have to keep up with everyone 100% of the time, but do the best you can.
It's also possible to feel like you've put yourself in the thick of things, but you're still coming across as more of a quiet observer than you think. If that's the case, this article may help:
It can help not to think about throwing yourself into the mix in either-or terms, i.e., you believe you have to be ultra-outgoing or you may as well not bother at all. Even pushing yourself to speak a bit more than usual may be all that's needed. Or maybe you'll only take a little initiative one day, but go further the next. Another thing you can do is find a friendly face or two and try talking to them, and not pressure yourself to make the rounds and chat up every last person. At a larger gathering that may not be a realistic aim anyway.
Acting as if you're a long-time group member vs. Asking getting-to-know-you questions
When you're around a bunch of new people your first instinct may be to ask them basic getting-to-know-you questions. Often that works fine, but they won't always be receptive. Established groups already know each other's background stories. When they hang out they talk about other topics, and are long past asking each other where they went to school and what they do for work.
The group members may not be in the mood to be asked about themselves. They want to talk with all their buddies, which is more entertaining and comfortable. They want you to be in the discussion and contribute to it as if you're familiar with everyone too. They can still get a good sense of what you're like that way (e.g., how outgoing you are, your sense of humor, your opinions, and so on). Learning the resume details can come later.
Again, some people are open to a standard getting-to-know-you exchange, however, if you initially try that and they don't seem enthusiastic, switch to the other approach.
Don't feel like you're at an audition
I think a lot of people put too much pressure on themselves when they hang out with a new group the first few times, because they feel like they have to show their best side and win everyone over. This sometimes backfires. You can get a bit nervous, try way too hard to make an amazing impression, and end up accomplishing the exact opposite. Like someone may try to talk themselves up by telling stories about their funny experiences, but come off as a bragging conversation monopolizer. They may overdo it with trying to joke around and be chummy with everyone and seem a bit socially clueless.
Even though you do have to take the initiative and put yourself out there, you don't have to go over the top and razzle dazzle everyone either. Act the way you normally would around friends. Don't try to be more energetic than usual, or joke around more than you typically would. Basically, if the group is going to like you, they're going to like you. Just do your thing and see how it all plays out. You can't be a good match for everyone, so don't be too hard on yourself if things don't click.
Don't get discouraged if things don't go perfectly the first time
Another important thing to keep in mind is that the first time you meet everyone usually doesn't make or break you. With a friend's friends think in terms of the first three to five times you hang out with them, not just the initial meeting. With clubs and teams you have an even longer time to get to know everyone. Sure, someone may form a rough idea of what you're like after seeing you once, but they don't decide then and there if they want to be closer with you or not. We often have to hang out with someone a few times before we have a sense how the relationship is going to develop, and even then we may be wrong. Hanging out with someone once, and maybe only getting to actually talk to them for ten minutes, isn't long enough to judge.
At times that first encounter with the group isn't super encouraging. Your conversations may have been a little strained or awkward, or you may have felt on the sidelines despite your best efforts. You may not have had much time to get to know each person. You may have even made a bigger social mistake or two. You can feel tempted to give up on trying to be friends with them, but give it at least a few more chances. Sometimes people get off to an iffy start with each other, then click once when they realize they're more compatible than they thought.
You don't have to make everyone love you
Getting along with everyone is something to shoot for, but you can probably hang around a group again even if they all don't want to be lifelong friends after meeting you on a handful of occasions. Some group members may not click with you as much as the others. They may come around one day, or maybe not. It's only natural, since people have a variety of personalities and interests.
In many social circles some people like and hang out with each other more than others. Two members may not have a particularly strong bond, but still spend time together because of their other mutual friends. If you meet a group of five people through your friend, eventually become good buddies with two of them, only casually know two more, and have the last one not care about you one way or another, you're still fine as long as you can all get along together. You may not connect with the last person, but on the whole the group works.
Give everyone a chance even if your first impression of them isn't perfect
When you meet a new group you may not like everyone instantly. One member might come off as a tad aloof, another may seem boring, another you don't have much in common with, and so on. Strategically ignore those first impressions and make an effort to be friendly with them all anyway. You may never end up totally hitting it off, but they could also be more likable than you originally thought once you get to know them. You can't write off everyone based on a smattering of initial negative information. I know you hope people give you that benefit of the doubt. Some people are too quick to dismiss everyone, so be careful if you know you have that tendency.
Groups are often quite obvious about what you need to do to be accepted
If you pay attention you can often pick up obvious signs of what you need to do for the group to take you in. It's not always subtle, nuanced cues. They could be as blatant as someone inviting you to go fishing with them, or mentioning they often go to the same pub on Friday nights. Perhaps in hindsight you can think of a time when someone extended an invitation like this to you, but it went over your head, or you picked up on the message, but decided you weren't interested. These signs can also be certain activities or interests the members take part in. If a group of guys meet on the weekends to play basketball, the message is that you're welcome to come along if you can take part.
Get into a larger group one subgroup at a time
Larger groups naturally take some time to find your place in, and it can be discouraging if you don't realize this. Meeting three of your buddy's friends is one thing, but if you're joining an established hobby club or starting a job at a busy restaurant with thirty staff, you can't realistically get in with everyone instantly. In these settings, while everybody might know each other and be on friendly terms, there will be smaller subgroups within the larger one. Some of these subgroups may be more friendly toward you, or mesh with who you are as a person more than others.
The subgroup you initially click with can be your home base - you at least have some people to chat to and hang out with. At the same time, you can gradually get to know everyone else, and they can get used to you. Before long you may get comfortable with the other subgroups. In the end, you may not be on equal terms with everyone, but you'll be accepted by the group as a whole. Give it some time and don't get too down on yourself if the rapport seems a little lacking with some members in the beginning. Everything may fall into place eventually.