Joining Groups of Two or More People Talking

by Sam Diener on September 24, 2009

Last week, I wrote about how to escape a conversation that you didn’t want to be in – “Excuse me, But I Don’t Want to Talk to You Anymore.” But, I have to apologize to you all because I have been shortsighted. Yup, silly me, I forgot to tell you how to join a conversation.

So it is with distinct pleasure, that I introduce to you all, Interruptology – the study of how to gracefully enter a conversation. Don’t worry about being rude though, “interrupting your way in” is only one of the methods on my list.

Above all, one of the most frequent concerns that I hear is – “I don’t want to bother someone” or “I don’t want to interrupt.” Is this running through your mind when you are presented with an opportunity to network? STOP THINKING THIS! (and if you have a second, go back and read my shyness article for an idea on how to reframe this set of thoughts.)

The great thing about networking events is that EVERYONE is there to make new contact – and you might be the person they need to meet. In fact, the next time you go to an event, I want your thought process to be: Tonight, I am going to see what I can do to help as many people as possible. It’s kind of hard to be shy or have trouble entering a conversation when all you want to do is help someone…

That being said, I don’t want you to be the guy or gal who enters a discussion by hockey checking another person out of the interaction. You are likely to get kicked out for that… At a networking event, you are allowed to join any conversation and talk to anyone. It’s encouraged! For those of you that struggle to start a conversation, it may be simply understanding this knowledge that may increase your skill ten-fold. I am here to help you pick the right conversations, and enter them with grace and tact. So to help you do that, I think it’s list time…

  • The “introduction.” It is used when there is an opening in the group. (I address how to find this opening soon) This is simple, walk up to a group of two, three or four people, and introduce yourself to the group, or a person in the group. However, make sure you wait for an opening in the conversation to actually introduce yourself.
  • The “I know you.” You got it! You happen to know someone in the group you want to join. At any point, you can generally go tap them on the shoulder or signal them in some way, and they will physically open the group up for you. Generally, it is proper etiquette to introduce someone you bring into a conversation, and someone will usually do this if it is appropriate.
  • The “interruption opener.” Be careful with this one. It involves listening from close proximity to the conversation thread, and saying something along the lines of, “excuse me, but were you all talking about…” It is best done when you have a reason to be close to the group, such as refilling a drink or getting some food. Otherwise, standing right next to a group eavesdropping could be quite odd.
  • Simply joining in. Be careful with this one too. Join a group of people that look inviting in their conversation and listen to what they are saying. Make sure to listen and show you are doing so. Eventually, if you have done this right, the group will cue you for your thoughts, and you now are in the conversation.

GROUP DYNAMICS.

When joining two people talking, you must determine how deep in conversation they are. Do not worry, it’s quite easy to do. Quickly look at their feet. Yes, that’s right, their feet. If they are toe to toe, most of the time you should not join them. They are generally deep in conversation. However, if you know one person, you can use an “I know you.” If they are not toe to toe, you can join however you would like.

twopeople

When three people are talking, the same rule applies. If all three are toe-to-toe, then generally, you only want to join if can use an “I know you.” Otherwise, wait, until you catch someone with open body language and go introduce yourself to that person or join in the conversation. Then judge whether that person is interested in the conversation of the other two, and proceed based on that.

threepeople

Four people is the biggest group that you should join. And it is the most difficult. The general technique is to find the one or two people a little less engaged in the conversation and introduce yourself to those persons. This actually may create a smaller group thus increasing your chances of a true connection. I can’t really draw this one out. This one is done by reading the body language of the group. Sometimes the foot technique works, but not always. No drawing for this one, sorry.


SOME THINGS TO REMEMBER:

  • The easiest conversation to join is one with one other person. As simple as walking up putting out a hand and introducing yourself. However, make sure to take care in reading what they are doing before you go up to make that introduction. In fact, if the contact is doing anything other than sitting or standing idly, you should ask yourself whether engaging them in conversation at this time is appropriate. Translation: don’t talk to someone who is making a bee-line for the bathroom…
  • The most reward comes from joining into conversations that are already occurring. I think it would be fair to say that the best networkers, are the people you need to be talking to. They are always in conversation. So you will need to join one to meet them.

Conclusions: Thanks for your attention!!!! If you have any other techniques that work well, post em’. If it’s good, I’ll add it to the article, and give you credit. Let me know how these work for you. If you liked this article, I recommend clicking “related posts” below, and reading the other ones….

If you would like to help me keep writing, a simple comment on here or a referring site (eg. linked-in) or referring a friend really helps!! You wouldn’t believe how many more people read this stuff when one or two people endorse the work. And I like helping as many people as possible!

As for me… I have decided that I would like to work for Google or Facebook. Does anyone have any connections or advice?

Good LUCK!

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  • Russ Kovar

    Sam:

    Another great article and information that even experienced networks should note. Thanks for sharing your insight and knowledge. I will post this on the JobAngels sight.

    Russ Kovar

  • Beth McDonough

    Hi Sam, I really enjoyed your posting! I serve as the volunteer director of Weathering the Storm, which is a group for people in career transition. I have several people who attend our live group who are painfully shy. I know that they would greatly benefit from the very practical advice that you gave in your article, so I posted the link to your blog on our LinkedIn group discussion page. Keep up the great work and good luck in all your endeavors!

  • edkislauskis

    Perhaps its late, but in reading your blog (networking 101: Interuptology) I couldn't help but see a parallel in basketball. While body language can tell you alot about a defender (new contact), how that person faces you and the orientation of their feet can tell you exactly which way to go and how to beat them off the dribble, or in this case – win respect by catching a ball, facing the basket, taking a Jab-step (into conversation), throw a ball-fake or two to keep them off balance, and then drive to the basket (leaving them with something to remember you by). Coach K.

  • Fairy

    I really liked the article. I have a small comment about the tapping on the sholder to enter to the conversation. Well i think getting the eye contact is the most essenrial way to start. Because some people don't really like the physical contact. Minding the different cultures with different conversation distance also should be considered.
    Good Luck :^)

  • Sam Diener

    Fairy, very good point!

  • http://twitter.com/pmacdo Peter Macdonald

    Sam That was a great article. I look forward to reading more.

    Thanks,

  • Mary

    Thanks for the practical networking tips. I especially appreciate those on leaving a conversation, since meeting as many people as possible is a good networking goal and getting “stuck” with one or two people can sometimes be a challenge.

  • Ari

    I agree with Fairy that eye contact is safer bet than tapping on the shoulder but Sam referred to tapping on the shoulder only for “I know you” way of joining the conversation. Depending upon how well you know the person, it might be ok. Also, for the eye contact a friend of mine suggested that when you make eye contact with a person just smile and this way you'll know when to start walking towards that person and introduce yourself.
    Sam thank you for the great tips. The body language cue part of the article (and neat diagrams) are really very helpful.

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  • http://spiamediagroup.com/blog Steve Yakoban

    Interesting article and useful tips. I really like the foot diagrams.

  • http://spiamediagroup.com/jobs/ Deb B.

    Sam,
    Thanks for the blog post. I've been going to networking events and sometimes find it difficult to converse with people because they just walk by and ignore you. I'm surprised by that because it's a networking event! So, I just stop them by asking, “What do you do?”. That seems to work. But then there are times when you see a group of people, just like you've mentioned and I wonder how to enter a conversation without coming across as rude. I'll definitely try your techniques next time. Thanks again for the good advice!

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  • http://www.lisaillichmann.com Lisa

    Sounds great – I’m going to try a couple of these ‘entrances’ at one of the next networking evenings around here.

  • tobizion

    Very helpful Sam. I'll pass this on to Ted.
    PS We met at his seminar on Innovation at Drexel.

  • http://www.opportunityseekerlead.net/ opportunity_seeker_lead

    This is cool! And so interested! Are u have more posts like this? Plese tell me, thanks

  • http://www.opportunityseekerlead.net/ opportunity_seeker_lead

    This is cool! And so interested! Are u have more posts like this? Plese tell me, thanks

  • http://www.shyFAQ.com Tim at ShyFAQ

    It might be hard to have trouble entering a conversation when all you want to do is help someone, but you have to deep down and genuinely believe it is in your power to do so.

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