Thursday, June 8, 2017

My first excuse to use "tête-à-têtes" in a sentence in a very long time

You may be an introvert when you actually do research on how to talk to people. Such was my reason for borrowing Jeanne Martinet’s The Art of Mingling: Fun and Proven Techniques for Mastering Any Room. It gave me a few ideas on how to improve my confidence when approaching someone, as well as some pointers on how to make small talk.

A lot of what is discussed is the logical answer to the question, "How do I engage a stranger in conversation?" Watching body language, following etiquette (turn off the cell phone!), and finding a balance of participating in conversation without monopolizing it--or, on the other end of the spectrum, losing complete control of where the conversation is going.

I liked Martinet's idea of "assuming a character"--that is, if you're a shy, intimidated person, put yourself in the mindset of a character who is self-possessed, confident, and charismatic. Maybe part of my liking this part of the book was the author's heavy reliance on "classic" actors like Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart for examples. And it goes along with something I've long believed myself: that just as our self-esteem is affected by what other people say to us, we are also affected by what we say to ourselves, and thus can give a sort of pep-talk to ourselves when we feel overwhelmed or insufficient. 

While some things in this book--mostly little details or tips--were helpful and seemed to make sense as techniques one could successfully use to improve mingling, I must admit to being a bit scandalized at the treatment of deception in the book. Whether it was an opening line or an excuse to escape an uncomfortable conversation, the frequent answer in this book seems to be “make it up.” It seems that as long as one is charming or charismatic enough, they can get away with any sort of exaggeration, fib, or ignorance. 

I was also a bit disappointed in how the goal of mingling was treated. For me, mingling is dipping one’s toe into the waters of what one hopes to be a deeper friendship, a true “getting to know you” effort. Perhaps it’s because, like many introverts, I prefer small, intimate groups or tête-à-têtes that move decidedly from petty small talk to more engrossing and enlightening discussion. 

The goal of mingling according to this book, however, is to talk to as many people as possible in a large group of people. Thus this book’s audience is not so much geared toward the socially awkward or wallflowers as it is towards people who want to make social connections for other purposes, such as furthering careers or getting invited to even more large-group parties.  

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