Pugs in Boots, Introverts, Social Interaction

[There is an interesting conversation to be had about the recent status upgrade of being an introvert and the host of pro- and anti- and “staaaahp claiming special snowflake status!” introversion articles.  This is not that conversation. Premise required for this article: Some people have more trouble doing social things, including conversations, than others, and would benefit from ideas for decreasing the work of maintaining friendships.]

For the most part, these are ways to maintain friendship and have social time with friends and acquaintances in less emotionally exhausting ways. They assume that invites like “let’s get coffee/have lunch/get dinner together!” are flinch-inducing.

1. Conversations while walking.
It is an agreed upon rule that people do not make eye contact while walking and talking, which allows them to avoid that lamppost, that small child, and the little puppy wearing clothes and booties. (Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that during the winter, small dogs wear shoes to keep their tiny feetsies from becoming frostbitten.)
Ahem.
Anyways, another benefit of keeping your eyes ahead is that there’s far less pressure to emote in exactly the right way, maintain eye contact, or do many of the other things that can make social situations feel like work.

2. Other physically exerting activities.
I know, it’s not as ‘normal’ feeling to ask someone to go to a trampoline gym with you, or suggest that you hang out by going to place with a bunch of ping-pong tables. But these all have the advantage of obviously including a component of spending time together without the more mentally-taxing aspect of having to hold up your end of conversation as intensely as getting coffee together requires.

3. Plays, TV shows, movies, trivia nights.
I think I originally got this idea from Leah. It has the added complication of sometimes reading as a date (and being a great date idea!) when proposed at the beginning of a friendship. On the other hand…you have a plan for spending social time together, a topic to talk about, and an obvious start and end point.

n.b. I suggest that when picking the to-be-watched TV show, play, or movie, it be something that either:

1) neither of you has seen or has a strong attachment to as the Best Show/Play/Movie Ever
2)both of you have already agreed is the Best Show/Play/Movie Ever

It kills the mood when you feel as though potential!friend is hovering, waiting for you to fall passionately, fan-fiction-writingly in love with their favorite show. And while I’m sure there are perfectly nice people who don’t like Into the Woods or Chicago or West Wing (maybe?? I kid, I kid.) it’s going to be harder to recall that they exist in the moment, and harder to avoid ending the hang out on a sour note. Pick something new to both of you! If it’s terrible, you have a story about shared misery and can throw popcorn at the screen together. If you disagree about its merits, debate them without feeling like its a referendum on your taste in media!

House fidget toys
House fidget toys

4. Fidget toys.
It’s not an uncomfortable silence, it’s just that you need to devote a lot of attention to these pesky buckyballs for a second! Playing with your phone during social situations is often considered rude, but having something to toy with usually passes muster. My house keeps a box of different things around, puzzles and the like. There’s also massage or silly putty, spinner rings, worry beads, and Rubik’s cubes.

Good News and Social Cues

There’s a social prohibition against bragging. This seems to make sense: bragging as that ‘look what I have, look at me’ behavior is really unpleasant. It’s a dominance move: everyone is stuck in either responding by praising the other person for having something, or trying to verbally wrestle over who has the best life/luck. I like this norm against bragging.

But even not-bragging, good-news sharing conversation seems to be socially tricky, to the point of being avoided.

I can come up with a few reasons we have this problem.

1a) It’s hard to have a conversation about happy news. Bad news can generate a whole host of bonding experiences in response. Responding to bad news with some version of “Ugh, I’ve been there and it sucks, I’m sorry” is considered helpful and sympathetic. The suffering person is not alone! Misery loves company, and all. I think the implicit interaction is like this:

Alice: Bad thing has happened to me!
Bob: Bad Thing has happened to me too! Other people you are similar to have also had Bad Thing and survived!

When it comes to sharing happy news, though, sharing about your similar experience in most cases seems to be less good, presumably because it downgrades the uniqueness or individuality of the person sharing. I think it looks something like this:

Alice: Good Thing has occurred!
Bob: People similar to you also have Good Thing! You are not sharing something unique or new to your social group!
Alice: er. okay. yes.

2a) When the happy news isn’t something that’s familiar or common to your conversational partner, there’s even less they can say that leads to ongoing conversation: yay! Go you! That’s awesome!
These are all good responses! But if Bob says “Yay! That’s awesome! …then Alice is sort of trapped. She can continue to expand on how happy she is or how awesome her Good Thing is, but then the conversation is entirely focused on her good luck, which doesn’t make the conversation as fun for Bob. At some point, Alice can decide to change the subject or bring the conversation to a close, but it’s not always easy to do.

3a) It seems to take more work (possibly because we have less practice) to hit the right level of excitement and joy when someone tells you good news. I think for many people, it requires more mental gear-shifting to suddenly light up and be enthusiastic* than to sympathize/empathize. Additionally, someone’s good luck can prompt jealousy  in a way that someone’s misfortune rarely does. Jealousy-squashing plus seeming the correct and authentic level of happiness is more mental work.

So. What I’m saying is, sharing good news is hard.

Also, I’d like people to do it more.

Partially, it’s selfish: other people’s happiness and successes are fun for me to hear, and, probably because I talk to people about their mental health often, it feels like I hear them unusually rarely.

Less selfishly and more altruistically, I think it might be beneficial in my communities. Positive psychology has an unfortunate habit of outrunning its evidence but it seems concretely established that gratitude and celebrating achievement is good for you.

So! How do we do it?

I’ve been doing a conversation like this:

Kate: Can I tell you something that makes me happy?
Bob: Sure, what?
Kate: I’m going to be able to do Fun Thing! I’m really excited about it!
Bob: [enthusiasms]

I’ve both heard that this is helpful to others and noticed that it makes me more willing to share my happiness. I’m not sure exactly why, but I have a few interrelated theories.

1b) The other person has some warning about what’s up. Instead of demanding they switch mental gears, I’m saying “I’m going to ask you to be happy for me, can you do that for a second?”

2b) The framing seems to discourage the implication that I am sharing a Good Thing that is about me being special or unique: instead I’m letting a friend know about something that made me happy.

3b) A favor/consent/control: firstly, the person (Bob, in this case) has the theoretical option to say ‘no, not right now.’ Even if in 99% of the cases, the person says that they want to hear about what’s making me happy, they have been given a choice in the matter, and I think, a sense that I am not just sharing my good fortune for my own sake—I want to know if they want to hear about it. Thirdly, I think there’s a sense that their role is to listen, then express happiness, and that this is all I’m asking from them.

1b, 2b, and 3b do not solve the problem of 2a, where I have to decide when and how to turn the topic back to other topics, doing so with minimal awkwardness or implied false modesty. Nor does the ‘can I tell you something that makes me happy’ construction avoid the problem of excess: if I’m constantly asking you to share my happiness without asking about yours or focusing on you, I’m still being rude in conversation. But all things aside, it makes it easier for me to enjoy others’ happiness and share my own.


*I spend a lot of time with people with depression, my intuition might be wrong here. 

Credit goes to Mitch for framing this habit as social cueing, making me think about how people share good news effectively. 

 

Social Skill: Entering Group Conversations

you-cant-sit-with-us

For a long time, parties were terrifying. There were people. And people talking to each other. Unless I arrived unfashionably early, I was going to need to promptly join some group of people talking to each other, or make like wallpaper and stand alone. Figuring out how to do this took a very very long time, and is something I’ve only gotten comfortable with in the last year (and only regularly comfortable with in the last six months).

Here’s what I’ve been doing.

(This is Part One of…several. It deals only with entering conversations of two people. Future parts will handle joining larger and larger groups.)

Being the third person joining a conversation of two people can be intimidating! You probably don’t want to be the Dreaded Third Wheel, interrupt a personal conversation, or take ten minutes to discover that in fact the other two are waiting until you leave to resume their private conversation.

Simultaneously, smaller group conversations can feel way less overwhelming. There are fewer people to pay attention to, it’s usually easier to get a word in edgewise, and there’s some social pressure for everyone in the conversation to make sure everyone else is getting to participate.

So!

First, you want to figure out if they’re having a conversation that’s meant for two-and-no-more-than-two people. Asking is one way to figure it out, but some people will feel so put on the spot (or will feel as though they need to pretend all is well) or may feel as though “no, sorry, you can’t sit with us” is so deeply inappropriate that they won’t say it.

What cues can you look for?

-Are one or both of the people occasionally looking at other things happening outside the bubble of their conversation. Do they wave at people or acknowledge others walking by? These are signs that you could probably interrupt and join.

-Are they mostly making eye-contact with each other? Are they standing closer-than-normal to each other? How much touching? People who are doing sustained contact (hand squeezes, lingering hand on shoulder or upper arm) are usually have intense or private conversations.

Okay, so you have some idea that you might be able to join the conversation! Cool, let’s do it.

Generally inadvisable: standing near them and anticipating that they notice + reach out to you + include you. This can feel like being watched or eavesdropped upon. Further, it’s really hard to tell people to go away when they haven’t made overt attempts to join. In short, most of the time this technique makes everyone uncomfortable, and is probably only a good idea if you’re just waiting to get a word in edgewise. (More on that next)

Generally useful: In approximately this order, you want the two people already having the conversation to:

Acknowledge that you are there.
Let you join the conversation.
If at all possible, give you some idea of what’s going on in the conversation so that you can participate as if you were already in it.

Some options for making this occur:

1. Pick something they’ve mentioned that is either of interest to you or particularly unusual.

“I heard ‘psychology’ over here…?”
“Sorry, did you just say duck penises?”

(If this doesn’t give you a sense of what sort of parties I attend…)
Usually I pair this with conspicuous noticing, while in view of one of the conversational participants. Quickly turning towards their conversation, eyebrow raising (or single eyebrow-raise + confusion, in the case of duck penises) or displaying sudden interest or alertness all seem to work.

2. Say something about the way the conversation is happening.

“You guys look like you’re having the most fun in the room—mind if I join?”

You want to convey joviality and cheer with this. Upbeat tone and smiling will be helpful here. You don’t want to imply that the rest of the room is awful, or that you’re having no fun and they’re you’re life preserver…that’s a lot of responsibility to be saddling a conversation with!

3. If you know the person or have reason to believe it’s welcome, some amount of (platonic) touch.

For instance, if you know Sarah, walking up to her while she’s chatting with Jane, touching her on the shoulder to get her attention and saying “Hey, Sarah! It’s wonderful to see you—mind if I join in?” (If you don’t know Jane, you likely want to apologize for interrupting and introduce yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to leave. It’s just a way of acknowledging that now Jane has to share and you’ve noticed that.)

Signs to look for:

People who freeze for a second and then smile and especially people who immediately shift to accommodate you in the physical space of the conversation are interested in having you join the conversation. That last part—the body language of giving you an equal share of discussion—is probably the biggest hint.

People who freeze, half-open their mouths, or have a wincing or painful or uncomfortable expression like this or this (eyes slightly squinted, corners of mouth drawn back but not smiling, wrinkly brow) are likely expressing discomfort with you trying to join their conversation. No worries, everyone mis-guesses! This is not failure, and you can tactfully withdraw.

Options for a graceful exit:

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize I was interrupting. See you all later!” (Smile, if they apologize or agree in response, awesome, you picked the thing they wanted! If they say you aren’t interrupting, you want to say something like “you sure?” and then join in if they respond in the affirmative)
“Oh, no worries, I see [person] over there!” (Alternately, beverage or snack of your choice.)
“Ah, sorry, didn’t mean to butt into a private conversation”

They don’t have to be effusive apologies. In fact, everyone wants to go back to what they were doing, so short and sweet is optimal.

And….that’s it! Practice will make this less of a safari-with-a-long-checklist and feel more natural, but it took me about a year (maybe…ten parties?) to go from having an idea of what the hell to do to not feeling awkward while doing it.


Have ideas? Other hints? Parts of this that failed miserably for you? Please let me know, and I’ll append with links to comments.

Hell is Ambiguous Social Signals

 

Mr. Darcy is ambiguous social signals up until the point he confronts Elizabeth Bennet with a list of her unmarriageable flaws. I humbly suggest this is the wrong way to do Direct and Indirect conversations.
Mr. Darcy is ambiguous social signals up until the point he confronts Elizabeth Bennet with a list of her unmarriageable flaws. I humbly suggest this is the wrong way to do Direct and Indirect conversations.

Hell is ambiguous social signals, I said.

After posting, I thought for a while, and found my self in disagreement with Five Minutes Ago Kate. (For most effective use, think before posting. Ask your doctor if Internet is right for you! Side effects of being on Internet include occasional Wrongness, spontaneous palm-to-face contact.)

Because I actually don’t think I dislike ambiguous or subtle social signals as much as that statement implied.

I have had my butt/heart/other metaphorically weighty bits saved by some well-timed ambiguity. Indirectness/Guess Culture gets a bad rap for being all about unspoken and implicit rules and norms, but I think it’s also extremely protective. When you don’t have a strong preference, being indirect, rather than explicit, can prevent being forced to choose a side. Guess culture runs on encoding social information in the middle of plausible deniability.

Direct Version
Joe:
Do you prefer A or B?
Jane: A.

Indirect Version
Joe: Apple, coffee, bulldozers, dining room furniture, newspaper, aardvark, tea, acrobat, hellmouth, Buffy, shield, cushion, sewing machine.
Jane: Orange, acorn, ice, acrobat, couch, brisket, pleather pants.
Joe: Let’s do A.

But supposing Joe instead said “I think we should do B!” Jane would have a safe rejoinder in saying that she’s also interested in B.

Ambiguous social signals are data points. Instead of Jane needing to hope that her preference for A wouldn’t directly contradict Joe’s preference for B, they can ‘dance’. Joe mentions some things, which indicate that he likes A and B (apple, aardvark, acrobat, bulldozers, Buffy) and Jane offers a rejoinder of mostly-A indicators.

This is especially useful when there’s a power imbalance. Jane might have a main goal of keeping Joe happy—perhaps Jane thinks he’s a potential business client. Instead of giving that away “Well, I could do whichever, A or B, because I mostly want to convince you that I care about your preferences” or accidentally picking A, without knowing Joe secretly loathes A and everything associated with it.

Okay, but an actual, non-alphabet-based example?

Indirect: slow escalation and feeling each other out, not insulting each other up until professing your love in the rain.
Indirect: slow escalation and feeling each other out, not insulting each other up until professing your love in the rain.

Sure! Dating.

Dating is a lot of slow escalation and plausible deniability. Presumably, two people on a first date have a sense that the person opposite them might have the characteristics they want in a partner. Being warm and lingering over dessert is a way to signal interest in a second date, without committing to a relationship, while being hands-off and failing to make plans for another outing conveys a lack of romantic interest without needing to baldly state that you can’t imagine dating them. One ambiguous signal (“She was being really touchy! But she might just be a touchy sort of person who’s only somewhat interested in me!”) is not enough information. The process of dating lets everyone find trends.

In the race to end up at We Should Date, you don’t want to outpace the potential partner. A proto-relationship in which Lisa introduces Mark to her friends as her boyfriend and he has to pull her aside to discuss why he isn’t comfortable with that is likely going to be worse off than a relationship that took another month to get to Official Boyfriend-Girlfriend status. (In fact, depending on that conversation, Lisa and Mark might not make it another month. Jim could be unwilling to tell Lisa that he’s not sure if he’ll wants to put up with her annoying laugh on a permanent basis. Sharing this will not end well, even if it’s true.)

Relationships use that indirect ‘dance’ to negotiate arriving at more serious milestones. Playing the “What do you consider love?”/”Have you been in love before?”/”I love [characteristic] about you” dance back and forth is a way to be more confident that your “I love you” will be returned. Asking what your partner considers love, only to hear back that they don’t believe in love lets everyone safely pretend it was only a distant, academic interest in the topic, instead of rejected at the moment they proclaim their love. (Alternatively, it protects the partner who doesn’t love from feeling forced to say ‘I love you’ too early.)

There’s a good deal of noise for each signal in Guess/Indirect means of communication, but that noise can be extremely useful. I’m fairly direct myself, but framing Indirect/Guess communication as universally less-good fails to notice how good can be nuance and uncertainty.

 

Social Skills Training List?

I’ve talked a little bit about how I learned social skills in a crash course in the last year of high school and early parts of high school. And by ‘social skills’ I mean things from “wearing clothes properly” to “entering and exiting group conversations”. [Partial list here] It’s not unusual for people to ask how I did it. Right now…I don’t have an answer that’s terribly coherent, or particularly useful to people who want to do it themselves. I’m working on that.

In the meantime, here’s a list of things that definitely helped me pick up parts of the skills. They will not make you solve the problem of people and weird, unspoken social rules, but they might give you a sense of patterns and scripts and This Is A Fixable Thingness.

Toastmasters

I took an adapted Toastmasters course during my senior year of high school,and it gave me a good deal of skill in handling being put on the spot, speaking confidently, and learning how to decrease the fidgets and filler words I was using. However, I think the most useful skill I picked up was the meta-skill of noticing how I was speaking, while I was speaking. Instead of having a number of conversational tics I couldn’t fix because I had no idea they were there, I could keep talking while also attending to the fact that I said “like” a lot, or was nodding too frequently.

Captain Awkward

Captain Awkward (and her Awkwardeer guest posters) have written an advice blog for years, and it is by far the best of its kind. In particular, I love it for scripts for interpersonal relationships, functioning at work during depressive times, and help with being socially skilled without losing yourself. (Confused by some of the references? Here’s a glossary.)

Favorite posts:
Breaking The Low Mood Cycle
The whole Social Interactions tag
PSA for the Shy, Maybe Queer, Maybe Bi, Maybe Asexual Ladies

Dr. Nerdlove

Dr. Nerdlove writes for heterosexual men, but I found reading through the archives incredibly helpful. When I had no idea what was going on in social interactions (“What is flirting? Is it this? What if he’s not flirting and then I flirt at him?? Can you even do that?“) it was extremely useful to hear someone teaching each individual step of flirting. Instead of looking for that nebulous “flirting” thing, I could look for component parts: eye contact, standing closer, focus of attention. Further, when Nerdlove would say “and then women often do X in response to you doing Y” I learned that ohhh, that’s the expected response!

Real Social Skills

Social skills for autonomous people. The writer both writes out and works through complicated social situations to navigate (with any eye to non-neurotypical experiences) and answers reader questions. My current favorite is about asking for reassurance. Also good: learning self respect, romanticizing neurotypicality.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder

This is the only one on this list that costs money; a manual that yes, is meant for clinicians, and yes, meant for borderline personality disorder, but I’ve found it invaluable, despite neither being nor having the above. In particular, I suggest flipping immediately to the end of the book to use the worksheets, which teach skills like how to say no, and in what tone of voice to say no based on the situation.

Useful if:

-you’d like to get better at figuring out which emotions you’re having
-you’re good with mindfulness or meditation and don’t like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
-social skills/interactions are tricky or seem to have opaque rules (the book contains SO MANY explicit diagrams)
-you want to learn to expand your comfort zone!
-you’d like to change your level of emotional volatility or feeling like emotions happen to you and eat you alive.

Less useful if:

-you’ve never interacted with the idea of therapy (ie, your picture of therapy is not much more detailed than talking or couches)
-you have a strong preference for learning the theory or probing the root causes of your mental health

What resources have you used?

Befriend A Swing Question Today!

I’ve been reading through my textbooks before I start grad school (I know, I know) and especially struck by the  Clinical Interviewing book.*

I mean, who couldn’t appreciate passages like this?

Several factors dictate seating-arrangement choices, including theoretical orientation. Psychoanalysts often choose couches, behaviorists choose recliners, and person-centered therapists use chairs of equal status and comfort.[…] Generally therapist and client should be seated at somewhere between a 90-and 150-degree angle to each other during initial interviews.

While I strongly discourage trying to be a therapist to your friends, (It will be exhausting! It will fail to meet your needs! They might begin to find every interaction too invasive!) this book has some work-throughs of conversational strategy that generalize.

Most people have heard of open and closed questions. The tl;dr of it is that open questions mean people can answer (and are encouraged to answer) in paragraphs, and closed questions allow (and encourage) short answers.

What adventures did you have today?

(Answer: Some story, or some reason why today was bad. In theory will capture narrative, mood, and current emotional state, plus give lots of jumping-off points for conversation to spring from.)

Did you have fun today?

(Answer: Yes/No, any elaboration is icing on the cake, and liable to be shorter than the open version of this question.)

Here’s the Advanced Version(tm): Swing Questions.

Again, back to the book:

Swing questions usually begin with Could, or Would, Can, or Will. For example:

  • Could you talk about how it was when you first discovered you were HIV positive?
  • Would you describe how you think your parents might react to finding out you’re gay?
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • Will you tell me what happened in the argument between you and your husband last night?

Ivey, Ivey, and Zalaquett (2011) wrote that swing questions are the most open of all questions: “Could, can, or would questions are considered maximally open and contain some advantages of closed questions. Clients are free to say ‘No, I don’t want to talk about that.'” (p. 85)

Okay, so these sound a touch trite or overly solicitous. But we can work with this! Step one: bury the lede. Instead of opening with “Can you tell me more about X” try “I think I’m still missing something, can you tell me more about X?” (Important: you have to actually be missing something. This technique is to help conversations about difficult issues, not to teach insincerity.)

Alternate constructions:

I’m not sure I agree that he was being deliberately mean, but I don’t know if I have enough information about the argument. Will you tell me more about it?
Mmm, say more about that if you want to? (the can/would is more implied than stated here)
Would you be willing to explain what that was like? I’m not sure I’ve had any experience like that. (In theory, someone could respond with “Yes.” However, you’ve now indicated that you want them to talk more, and everyone wants to avoid the awkward pause that single-word answers cause.)

Step two: convey uncertainty!
You don’t want in any way to make this sound like a command (“Tell me your deepest secrets! Confess your distress!) and questions asked without a veneer of deference can be unintentionally pressuring. The fastest way to is to have increasing tone and pitch towards the end of the question. Depending on personal style and skill, raising one or two shoulders and/or tilting your head can also add effect.

So, dear readers, can you tell me more about what makes this succeed or fail for you?


*Very, very good if you’re looking to be a therapist/helping professional.

The Humble ‘Yeah?’

[Related to: Getting Past Small Talk]

Two things are true of most people I spend time with:

1) They want to avoid small talk.

2) They don’t want to make people feel forced into uncomfortable conversations.

This is how to do it.

Or at least, it’s one solution I keep using, that seems to generalize without forcing everyone to play the Reveal Your Darkest Secrets to Strangers Game. Because, even as there’s the annoyance of small talk conversation (I live in California, the weather is always nice.), it serves a role. You acknowledge that you’re not ignoring each other, figure out how you interact (flirty? casual? professional?) and whether or not one of you wants needs something (Do you know when dinner is? Do you have that file I need?) without being abrupt.

Sometimes the answer to “How are you?” is too complicated or private to discuss upon first meeting. Sometimes you do want to get away with claiming everything is just fine, thanks, when your eyes are red. Or you’re really happy, but the reasons are confidential. A social norm of skipping the small talk doesn’t usually give the plausible deniability that distant pleasantries allow.

But how do you get from How Are Yous to personal discussion, without forcing it?

I’ve been yeah?-ing at people.

A: Hey! How are you?

B: I’m pretty okay.

A: Yeah?

And at this point, there are two options for B.

Option 1: B’s been having an unpleasant amount of relationship upheaval, and could use some ears and tissues and hugs. It’s a bit tricky (not to mention socially frowned upon) to hand any passing stranger your problems, so B didn’t lead in with this. A, on the other hand, just lobbed the conversational softball towards B, with the obvious option of elaborating on “pretty okay”.

B now can take the next step towards explaining what’s up. Perhaps she says “You know, things have been rough with Emma lately.”…at which point, A can offer platitudes (“Man, that’s rough.” “That’s too bad, but I bet you’ll work through it.”) in order to avoid an emotionally heavy conversation. Or, A can continue down the road of signaling further interest, arriving at our destination: The Land of Definitely Not Small Talk.

Option 2: B’s not interested in sharing further details. Perhaps she’s concerned about ruining her mascara before the next meeting, or emotionally wrung out, or just doesn’t think A will be very helpful in these circumstances. For whatever the reason, she can respond in a similarly opaque way:

A: Hey! How are you?

B: I’m pretty okay.

A: Yeah?

B: Yeah, you know, lots on my plate.

This choice between Options 1 and 2 rests squarely in the hands of B. A number of the techniques I’ve seen to do the same thing: get after people’s current emotional state, without stopping at small talk, take that control away from B.

“You look sad, is something wrong?” “Is everything okay?” These mean either denial (true or false, still deeply uncomfortable), or feeling the social pressure of discussing what made you upset whether or not you wished to do so. “Tell me about yourself!” or “What’s your life plan?” (a popular intro line at a conference I recently attended) does all but point a literal spotlight at your conversational partner, often before they’ve relaxed into chatting with you. Escalate the intimacy slowly, and give everyone an out.