How do you deal with being the new kid on the block? If the very idea of breaking into a new social circle at an event has you heading for the door, follow our simple guide to joining groups.
We’ve been privileged to meet lots of fantastic characters over the past few years while creating Get Together magazine. Some of their pictures are featured opposite – a veritable ‘hive of activity’. They host Get Togethers, give advice, share reminiscences, attend events, volunteer, curate art exhibitions and help to pollinate Islington’s flora among other things. And they all have one thing in common – their lives are all enriched by the groups that they interact with and the activities they are involved in.
There are many well documented things you can do to help yourself age well – exercise and be physically active, make healthy food choices and avoid smoking. But did you know that participating in group activities you enjoy will also help support healthy ageing? Research tells us that older people who regularly take part in group activities and have an active lifestyle will have a lowered risk of developing certain diseases, including dementia. In addition to a longer, healthier lifespan, older adults who engage in social and productive activities are also less depressed and are better prepared to cope with loss or change.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers that stops older people engaging in group activities is the fear of breaking into an existing group. According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, our self confidence peaks at around 60 years of age and steadily declines thereafter as we head into retirement. Education, income, health and wealth all play a part, but importantly, so does a decline in social interaction. Ironically, the social interaction we need to maintain and boost our confidence is often the thing we recoil from because of our decreasing self confidence.
You arrive alone. Your heart is beating a little faster than normal and suddenly all of your charisma and charm go out the window. You try to lock eyes with someone so that you can find a temporary home in what can feel like a sea of strangers. But everyone looks happily engaged in conversation.
While this passage might sound like a description of the first day at work, it’s actually how many of our attendees feel when they enter a Get Together or group event for the first time. These are completely natural reactions, even for the biggest extroverts, as no one likes being the new person, irrespective of their age.
HELP IS AT HAND
The great news is you’re not alone. The first thing to remember is that there’s always someone you can talk to at Age Uk Islington about any fears you may have. If there’s a particluar Get Together, event or activity you are interested in attending our staff are on hand to walk you through what to expect, talk about the size of the group as well as any other issues you may need to address, i.e. accessibility requirements or transport needs.
In addition, we’ve compiled a selection of strategies and approaches overleaf that may help you to ease into a new social circle. Simple ideas to aid you in realising a brilliant later life – full of people you enjoy being around and pastimes you are passionate about. We are by our very nature social beings and thrive in the company of others. By removing some of the barriers that stop us interacting, we can all lead confident, fulfilling lives.
DON’T EXPECT PERFECTION
We all have a tendency to put too much pressure on ourselves when we are introduced to a new group the first few times – because we feel like we need to show our best side and win everyone over. This can sometimes backfire. Even though you do have to take the initiative and put yourself out there, you don’t have to go over the top and dazzle everyone either. Act the way you normally would around people. 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 be yourself 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 immediately.
A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY
It can be a great help not to think of throwing yourself into things in ‘either’ ‘or’ terms. Basically, don’t feel that you have to be ultra-outgoing or there’s no point in trying. Even pushing yourself a little bit more than usual may be all that’s needed. Or why not try only taking a little initiative one day, but going further the next. Another thing you can try to do is find a friendly person or two and try talking to them, and not pressure yourself to make the rounds and chat to every last individual. At a larger event or gathering that may not be realistic anyway.
BE INTERESTED, NOT ALWAYS INTERESTING
Breaking into groups can be tough for introverts, because most of us are not naturally outgoing. If you are a naturally observant and thoughtful person, you are likely to be an excellent listener. Put those skills to use. When you strike up a conversation, try asking the person why they came to the Get Together. And instead of immediately responding, relating their answer back to yourself, dig deeper. Ask what they like about art/bowls/history etc. If you feel comfortable, ask about their families or personal lives. This will make an impression while giving you more time to feel comfortable in the conversation.
FIND THE REFRESHMENTS
When thinking about easing yourself into a new group, it’s always a great idea to position yourself near the refreshments. Many people make a beeline for the refreshments (especially on a cold winter’s day) to get to a cuppa. If you position yourself a few steps from the refreshments, you can easily strike up a conversation as people turn with drink in hand.
Another great ice-breaker is to offer to get someone a cuppa while you’re getting one for yourself. When you return with their drink, they will be much more receptive to striking up a conversation. The other advantage of this is it overcomes that initial awkward ‘where do I stand’ moment and gives you an action to undertake rather than jumping into a conversation.
OFFER A HELPING HAND
The biggest fear about breaking into a new group is that seemedly impenetrable wall of in-jokes, shared experiences and existing friendships. A great strategy to alleviating that new person feeling is to turn up a little early and offer to help with setting up. The first thing this approach achieves is to introduce you to the host. They will be overjoyed at having this helpful new person joining their group. As they chat with you, they will be thinking of people in the group that they feel you would connect with. Hosts love to bring people together, and this way they will be able to help you meet people just like you.
DON’T GET DISCOURAGED
On some occasions that first meeting with a group isn’t exactly what you’d hoped it would be. Interactions may be a little strained or awkward, or you may have felt a little left on the sidelines despite your best efforts. You may not have had much time to get to know each person. You may feel tempted to give up on trying, but give the gathering at least a few more chances. Always remember that it can take a few tries to start to connect with people. Ask yourself – how many times in life have you met someone you weren’t sure of who ended up becoming a good friend? In the long run, you’ll be so glad you persevered.