This week, when Theresa May was seen being awkwardly excluded from salutations at the EU summit, many felt her pain.
A video has emerged in which the Prime Minister appears to be being ignored by other attendees. It was tweeted by journalists covering Thursday morning’s event in Brussels and shows Mrs May fidgeting, while her European counterparts greet each other warmly and chat.
Although it was entertaining to watch – in an I-can’t-stop-cringing way – being socially awkward is a British custom, and we have all been there.
Networking or socialising can be terrifying. And when you enter a room full of people smiling, chatting away it’s natural to want to shuffle into a corner/ hide in the loo/ intensely stare at your phone/ crawl under the nearest table and wait for everybody to leave.
So how do you worm your way back into the group? Here’s some advice we could all use, even if you’re Prime Minister…
1. Make a point of being nice
“If I was given the cold shoulder like Theresa May I would have made a real point of going over introducing myself to the group and taking control of the situation,” says Neil Westwood, managing director of Magic Whiteboard who secured an investment on Dragons Den last year.
“Start with praising them and saying they look well – everyone likes a compliment, then explain something positive and offer good news to the group being hostile.
“In past I have made sure I’m seen talking to the most senior person the meeting – even if it’s just small talk.”
2. Be proactive
“Networking and other social events can be a daunting prospect, especially if you are attending on your own,” Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, a personal branding specialist, explains. “Don’t wait for others to make the first move – take control of the situation, approach them and begin a conversation.
“We all love to talk about ourselves and by focusing your attention on them, you make them feel good, their impression of you quickly becomes a positive one and their ‘endorsement’ of you will become manifested by them introducing you to others.”
If it seems too intimidating to walk up to someone? Approach a group of three. Naturally, two of those talking will be making eye contact – so it’s easier to start chatting to the third person, who may be feeling slightly out on a limb anyway.
3. Remove yourself from the situation
“Will this really matter next week, next month, next year?” Liz Kentish, people development expert from Kentish and Co, asks.
“Take a deep breath, keep smiling and if you don’t have to be there, leave. Go get a coffee or some fresh air. Be the one who takes charge of your own situation.”
4. It’s their problem
“Reverse the situation. When you’re the outsider, it’s less about knowing how to push yourself in to the group, than the other people not knowing how to include you,” says Anna Hickey, managing director at consultants Maxus UK.
“That flip takes the pressure off. It allowed me to see those situations as my needing to make it easy for everyone else, rather than focusing on being deliberately excluded.
“Now I choose someone and directly approach that individual. I treat them like an open door, and I walk through it, rather than waiting for it to be opened for me.”
5. Be yourself
“Nervous self-consciousness is a killer at social events,” Lief Anya Schneider, managing director of corporate reputation management consultancy SBC London, says. “As your parents always told you, be yourself. If you’re in a happy, sociable mood – then show it, reach out your hand and ask a question. If you’re not, step back a little.
“Whatever you do, don’t don a grimacing smile in a doomed attempt to hide what you’re really feeling. There’s no need to ingratiate yourself with anyone.
“If other people don’t like you or don’t want to talk to you – that’s their right and no skin off your nose. Just as it’s your right to sit the gossip and small talk out, if the spirit isn’t moving you to join in.”
6. Don’t be a social snob
“Social snobs are painful at parties,” Schneider continues. “Don’t be looking for who ‘matters’ and who ‘doesn’t’ – everyone matters. Look for the person that needs you the most, who else could do with a reassuring smile?
“Very senior people often get left out, because people feel nervous to speak to them, and they’re grateful to be spoken to as normal. Everyone is human, and everyone has an interesting story, if you take the time to listen.”
This article featuring Liz Kentish originally appeared in the Telegraph