March 31, 2011

Excuse me but hi

I've noticed that I'm really bad at one particular networking skill: joining conversation circles at professional events. You know, when you're at a conference or a lecture or a reception, and people are mingling with each other, walking around starting up conversations and joining conversations in progress.

I am great at starting up a conversation with someone else who is standing around. But when two or more people are already talking, I end up hovering near them, waiting for them to pause... and they just keep talking while I stand there awkwardly, sometimes for several minutes. I feel too shy to interrupt in an assertive way -- and many people are happy to keep on talking as though I'm not there, even though everyone can see that someone would like to join the conversation.

I'm especially bad at joining conversations with people I don't know, since strangers are the least likely to recognize and acknowledge me. I also feel like when important men see me (a young woman) hovering, they make a quick decision that I'm not important. But it can also happen with classmates and professors in my own department. There have been times I've been blatantly ignored by people I know because they just didn't want to let me into the conversation (especially in situations when a male classmate is busy sucking up to a male professor).

I would wonder if it's impolite to ever approach a group of people who are already talking, but I see other people do it all the time. They join conversations naturally and easily, and then they leave to join other conversations. When you are trying to network with an important person, joining the circle is the only way to get his attention, since important people are never standing by themselves.

What do y'all think -- is there some technique that people use in order to politely join conversations? Or should I be more selective about the conversations that I attempt to join, and generally leave people alone when they're already talking? Am I the only person who overthinks stuff like this?


  • Honestly, I don't think this is a problem on your part, I think it's kind of rude when you're talking in a group and someone walks up and you ignore them.

    My guess is the people who seem to do it super easily know the people already speaking pretty well.... is that possible?

    By Blogger Psycgirl, at 4/1/11, 7:08 PM  

  • Yeah, I think people who easily move into conversations tend to either know the people already, or they are well-known enough that people are eager to talk to them... which is not the case when you're obviously a grad student and not well-known at all.

    By Blogger Di Di, at 4/2/11, 1:44 PM  

  • I'd agree with Psycgirl. I don't think that it's a problem on your part at all. I'd say that all of us have this problem if we've not met any of the people who hang out in groups at conferences. I'd agree with you that it's rude when one walks up to some of them, who you might know...and they ignore you. I've also had that problem when a male classmate was busy sucking up to a male professor.

    I'd suggest that you introduce yourself to the people whose work that you find interesting...immediately after they've given a paper if you're at a conference. That's worked for me.

    By Anonymous Anthea, at 4/3/11, 4:39 PM  

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