Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Party Performance Anxiety

Barbara: I bet almost all of you know what I mean by this, right? I can’t count how many people I’ve spoken to over the years who admit to suffering from some form of it. People that would surprise you. You know, super-outgoing people, easily conversant people. Yes, people like me.

Why me, you ask? Why would I worry about Christmas party banter when I usually­­––and so obviously––have a great time at get-togethers?

I have almost never met someone I HAVEN’T liked at a party (and if I don’t like them, usually it’s because they’re rude or mean-spirited). I LOVE meeting new people, or catching up with people I like but who I don’t keep in touch with, or, best of all, seeing dear dear friends who I haven’t seen in ages.

And there is absolutely nothing like a good ‘ol Christmas party to give ample opportunity to enjoy all of the above.

And yet, before I go to parties (particularly larger, casual ones), I succumb to the usual performance anxiety. What if I can’t think of anything to talk about? What if I can’t find anyone to talk to? What if everyone just stares at me blankly as I struggle with awkward silences and banal patter? And with my husband traveling a lot, I often go to these parties on my own—so no “safety net”.

Then I realized that these concerns are mere hiccups in my insecurity blanket. There is one foible that trumps all the others. I realized yesterday that it’s not the actual talking to people that I fear, or even the not-knowing-what–to-say thing. I am (as I said) an outgoing and chatty reveller. But I am a notorious question-asker. I truly love hearing about your life. Which is great if your questions are meaningful, apropos (ie, you haven’t forgotten major personal information, like a parent’s death (!), a recent illness, or a child’s accomplishment), and personal but not too personal.

I ask stupid questions all the time. I am embarrassed to say the forgetting of deaths and illness has trumped me from time to time. Or someone will tell me a personal tidbit and, in my rush to ask my next question, I miss a key detail that they’ve JUST told me: 
Them: I’ve been really busy working on my next novel.
Me: Oh, that’s wonderful! Is it fiction or non-fiction?

Pause. Awkward pause.

Them: Um, aren’t all novels fiction?  
Yes. Yes, they are. Oops.

But stupid questions aside (strangely, I’m okay with those; they’re like my signature or something), the real trouble-spot for me is in the “personal but not too personal” department.

Did you notice that one on my list? I discovered that this is the very crux of my performance anxiety. Before I head into that next festive and delightful party, I am worried that I will somehow bruise you with my questions. That I will infringe. Or extricate. Or impinge. It worries me. Lots of people are way more private than I am, so I don’t have the same barometer for where that line might be.

So, I’m begging you: help me, please! Please tell me what I can ask you at the next party … and what I can’t.

Deb: Barb, the mere thought that you do not see yourself as this shiny sweet guest is killing me! I love your questions. Bring them on. More people should ask rather than tell. It’s always lovely to see that someone is genuinely interested. But if I must, here are some guidelines.

- How are you spending the holidays?
- Are you hosting or being hosted?
- Did you do all your shopping yet?
- Cold enough for you?
- What are your Christmas traditions?
- Do you do turkey, goose, or tofurky?

-       Help me out here. I know someone in your family recently died, but I don’t remember who? Parent? Dog?
-       Oh, go ahead, have another cheese puff. You’ll lose that extra weight you’re packing in the New Year!
-       I saw your husband Doug at the Marriott. He was going up the elevator and I didn’t get a chance to say hi before the doors closed. Did you guys have a little romantic getaway? ... Oh ... sorry ... I … you know, now that I think of it, maybe it wasn’t Doug. (big gulp of wine)
-       Wow, Joanne, (loud voice) GREAT FACELIFT!


  1. HA!! Deb!!! Hilarious.

    Barbara, I'm the same way, especially at a party where I know very few people. I start with a drink, not that it's great advice to tell people to consume alcohol, but it loosens me up and gets my nerves down so I can act like the Diva I am (or not) and talk to people I don't know (or not) and be the life of the party (or not). :)

  2. I know more life histories because I ask questions. I find others more than willing to talk about themselves but I would venture to guess they leave the party not knowing much about me. I love to hear stories so I always ask and maybe once in 62 years someone said that was private. Doesn't happen. My usual ending from the other person is "I never told that story to anyone before" and I am the holder.

  3. No, Megan, I think that glass o somethin is a great starter. (and all the same variations for me, btw!)

    Madge, as usual, you kill me: " 'I never told that story to anyone before' and I am the holder." is probably the most beautiful way EVER to look at it.

  4. It's weird that u all posted this because the other day we had a christmas party for the people that I work with. I decided not to go. Not because I feel I would have nothing to say but because I always feel weird at things like that. For some reason once I get around a large amount of people I always feel awkward. I figured what is the use of going if I am just going to sit there and feel like I don't belong. I LOVE LOVE christmas partys if they do not have a lot of people. When they have a lot of people there I feel like I don't belong. Weird right?

  5. Deb: Cold enough for you? Gak. That one always cracks me up, it's so overused and silly.
    Barb: We've never met, but I just know that you are charming and lovable no matter where, no matter what. Stop worrying.

    I like to say, when I ask someone what's new or what's up and they say oh, nothing much: "Well for heaven's sake, make something up before next time I see you."

  6. Lyndsie, not weird at all. But really really normal, I think. Probably our best solution is to treat those larger get-togethers like they're just a bunch of small parties of small groups that just happen to be under one big roof!

    Kate, thanks for your support. And I LOVE your come-back line!

  7. You can ask me ANYTHING YOU WANT. I look at TMI as a lifestyle choice. I'm serious.

    It cracks me up that somebody so obviously SKILLED at this worries about it and somebody like me who really never has much to say, doesn't... Possibly your CONCERN over it leads to your skill, as you are thinking about it ahead of time.

    I'm cracking up at Deb's 'don'ts' BWUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Even I'm not that bad at it...

  8. That is a great solution. I will have to try that. I have just never been great with a lot of people or large crowds. I am trying to get better at it and I am sure that I will. Maby next Christmas. Maby I should try to talk to more people when I am at these Christmas party's hopefully it will help me to be able to get around a large crowd with out feeling so weird.

  9. I'm talkative. I'm friendly. I have no problem striking up a conversation with a stranger in a long line at the grocery store or the bank. I've led meetings and taught lessons to large groups. I've even preached from the pulpit. I am not particularly shy. But, I despise parties. Plain and simple. Unless it is an informal, small gathering in a home and I know everyone in the room very well and we're all gonna end up laughing and being silly anyway, a party is agony for me. I'll be the one sitting in a chair in the shadows with my chest and throat squeezing shut while I anxiously await the first opportunity to flee home to comfortable clothes and a good book. The words "cocktail party," "reception," "meet and greet," and the like are bad, bad, bad things to me. I have no idea how to cope with random mingling, small talk, networking, and proper, formal party behavior. I'd rather listen to 2 hours straight of election season campaign commercials while cleaning a gas station bathroom than endure a party for 2 hours.

  10. You can ask me ANYTHING ANY TIME.
    If a person doesn't want to answer, they don't have to, but I've always found that people love talking about themselves - once they're asked to open up. There is a deep part of all of us that truly wants to be witnessed.

  11. Just don't ask me to look in on your 95 year old deaf and demented mother 4 times a week for two and a half months while you're vacationing. This recently happened to my husband. You could not possibly top that one so relax already.

  12. Not surprisingly, I'm much like Hart. I don't easily offend. But I do worry about asking people the wrong kinds of questions. A great conversation for me is when I ask one really good question that the person can spend 10 minutes answering.

    Deb, I love your list! I have to remember it for future reference.

  13. Rigel, that's too bad. You are such an outgoing online social butterfly that I bet that quality would translate well at any "meet and greet" (if you left the corner ;) )!

    Hollye, thanks -- and I do agree with you despite my concern about poking too deep.

    And Nag -- lolllll!! Okay, that is going to be my next party opener.


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