After a recent speaking engagement, a young lady approached me with an interesting problem. She shared that when out trying to network and “mix-and-mingle,” she becomes invisible.
It took me a second to process that comment. However, as we discussed it I understood her problem. She would step up and meet people. As others joined the conversation, her part of the conversation grew smaller and smaller and she became increasingly “invisible” to the others.
She was polite and friendly. However, she also had a very soft voice, a pleasant but mild personality, and a foreign accent that made her a bit more challenging to understand. She was petite and unassuming. Nothing wrong, just an accumulation of things that worked against her when others around her were more assertive (or perhaps aggressive).
Our discussion has crossed my mind many times since. She was sharing a problem that many people have when interacting with groups.
Want an easy way to realize that someone talking with you, alone or in a group, has no interest in you or your point of view? Pay attention and determine if you have become invisible.
Likewise, if you leave a discussion and cannot explain the viewpoint of others, then don’t consider your message to have been heard… or to have mattered. If you don’t know why they care about what you say, then you are probably not connecting with them. In these cases, you are talking AT people instead of WITH them. People don’t like that.
When you are not connecting with people, they will ignore you, hide from you, flee from you or suffer from you. Maybe they will stay just to be polite, hating it all the time. Who wants to be that person?
Now, back to the invisible young lady, what advice could I have for her? Naturally, a few obvious things come to mind. Practice speaking louder so it is not a struggle to be heard. She should also not be discouraged if she is in a group in which she is the only stranger. A group of friends should be courteous of someone new to the group or discussion but in their eagerness to visit, may forget the new person (especially if they are relatively quiet). She could seek out others that are new to the group and build new relationships with others in the same situation.
I would also suggest she ask more questions. The adage is true, “To be interesting, be interested.” While it does not always work, the more questions you ask, the greater the likelihood that the law of reciprocity will take place. That is, others will soon start to ask questions back.
She should be persistent and consistent. Not annoying, just committed. My first few times to chamber of commerce events I felt awkward, unsure and even isolated. However, I kept going and kept mingling each time. Over time, I was included and years later won awards from this group and I even met my lovely bride at chamber meeting.
People in existing groups often know that many visitors rarely return, thus they don’t expend much genuine emotional energy connecting with them. Once you show some commitment to the group, those in the group will usually become more accepting and engaging.
If you have the unwanted power of invisibility, remember that communication is a skill. Practice, learn, adapt, repeat.