Do you have minglephobia?
What about pluralistic ignorance?
Do you ever misestimate the hedonic trajectory of a conversation?
If so, welcome to my world.
And surprisingly, there’s a good deal of people in this world.
In a fascinating article in the HuffPost, reporter Brittany Wong takes a look at an issue that many of us find uncomfortable: how to talk to someone new.
Jeanne Martinet, author of “Mingling With the Enemy: A Social Survival Guide for Our Divided Era,” thinks that the majority of Americans have what she refers to as “minglephobia” ― a fear of talking to strangers at social gatherings. I know I do, but I always felt I was in the minority. It always seemed like other people were much more comfortable in such situations than I am.
We figure we’ll have nothing in common with the person.
The fear is commonplace, according to Juliana Schroeder, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business.
“Many of us think we’ll run out of things to say more quickly than we actually do, and that makes us misestimate the hedonic trajectory of the conversation,” Schroeder said. (That’s a fancy way of saying how enjoyable the conversation will be over time.)
In one study, Schroeder and her co-author tested several possible psychological reasons for why people believe that talking to strangers will be unpleasant and found the most evidence for two reasons: concerns about social rejection and pluralistic ignorance. In the study, pluralistic ignorance is defined as the belief that others are less interested in connecting with us than we are in connecting with them.
However, everyone in the experiment said they would be more willing to talk than they thought others would be willing to talk.
When it came to social rejection, most participants in the study believed that more than 50% of the people they approached would refuse to talk to them, but actually less than 5% of participants said that this happened to them.
Those are certainly my two “fears”. Who wants to get stuck talking to an accounting teacher at a social gathering?
To help overcome such fears, experts offer the following guidance:
- Go into the conversation assuming the other person will be interesting. In other words, assume the person is not an accounting teacher.
- Become a great listener. I don’t know if I’m a great listener,, but I certainly enjoy listening to the other person talk, than talking myself.
- Come armed with a cheat sheet of good generic questions. Consider questions about hot topics in the news, a new trend you saw on TikTok, the holidays or pandemic life. You could also use the open-ended “what keeps you busy” prompt. You should also be sure to ask some follow-up questions or encouraging statements, too.
- Don’t be afraid to share something deeper about your personal life. OK, here goes. Purple is my favorite color. There, I said it.
- Prepare for the worst case scenario. In other words, prepare for the possibility that you may get stuck talking with an accounting teacher.
- But go into the conversation expecting good things. You hope that you end up sitting next to Bruce Springsteen.
I guess the best thing about the article was simply knowing that the fear of talking to someone new is fairly universal. I think that will make it easier for me next time I am in such a situation.
Although I still have that accounting teacher thing hanging over me…