by Steve Adubato, PhD

Freshman orientation! What do those words mean to you? We have a son who is about to enter college, and along with millions of other soon-to-be freshman, he’s experiencing a fair amount of nervousness and anxiety about “going away” to school and meeting new friends on campus. It’s a scary experience. In many ways it’s daunting and can feel overwhelming.

Recently my son said he went to a required orientation and felt that it was hard to break into the conversation with “cliques” of other kids talking together. Whether you are 18 or 48, we all know how that feels to be cut out of the conversation – to be the outsider trying to join in. And consider this…what if you are part of the conversation and someone else is clearly trying to break in, but you know how to include them?

With this uncomfortable communication picture in mind, consider the following tips and tools that can help a freshman, an adult at a cocktail party, or a mom or dad at a PTA event:

It’s a question of percentages. Of course, it doesn’t feel good to try to get into a conversation and be turned away or ignored. But here’s the deal…It’s usually not about you. Get that out of your head. Because if you tell yourself, “Something must be wrong with me,” it will only feed your insecurity and anxiety. As hard as it is, move onto the next person or group and just introduce yourself; “Hi, My name is Bob. I’m from New Jersey. Where are you from?” The more people you try to meet, the more likely you are to make a connection. But if you quit after one or two rejections, the game is over, and who loses? You.
Because you know what it feels like to be on the outside looking in, it is important that you go out of your way to be proactive and invite others into the conversation by using very specific communication and conversational techniques. Open your body language, from your back being to someone, to facing them directly communicating that you would like to welcome them. Then say, “Hi, my name is Steve. What’s yours?” That will clearly invite a response. Now take it to the next level by introducing the others in your group to the newcomer.
Be a joiner. For the freshman in college, this means joining a club or organization with others who have similar interests. This could revolve around sports, music, language, community service, whatever. It’s also true for adults who can take a yoga class, or join a book club in their community. They key is to find common ground which creates ripe communication opportunities to share information, opinions and ideas. I know it’s easier to keep to yourself. And sometimes being a loner has its benefits. And even though you may need to take some risks as a communicator, becoming part of a community can be rewarding on so many levels.
Finally, remember this you’re not alone. We’re all in this thing together. Most other people are feeling anxious and nervous about communicating in unfamiliar or foreign situations. Keeping this in mind will help you to have the confidence and positive attitude necessary to break the ice with someone else. The more you do this, not only are you helping others by meeting them halfway (if not a little bit more), you are also helping yourself. Bottom line…The communication game is never easy, but it “just doesn’t happen” naturally as some would like to think. You need to have a plan and stick to it. The payoff is more than worth it.