Group Conversations

i have always been someone who prefers 1-1 conversations, and i think it’s largely because i spent a lot of time figuring out the rules for them.

ask questions. pay attention. contribute in relevant ways. find and discuss themes. notice when their eyes light up. poke around for ideas that interest both of you.

group conversations are different. for one, there’s much less tolerance for imperfect energy, especially at a party.

hanging out 1-1, there’s a certain level of grace and willingness to work with each other, because usually you’ve made concrete plans to hang out 1-1 so you’re not exactly able to run away whenever you feel like it. it feels like a toy version of an arranged marriage, where spouses often report having higher satisfaction with their relationship compared to non-arranged marriages.

in a group conversation, it’s harder to be socially accommodated when infodumping repeatedly, or telling boring stories, or generally having weird vibes, as no one person feels it’s their primarily responsibility to stay or be patient with you through it, even if the person with the weird vibes would have better vibes after getting some of that stuff off their chest. and that lack of safety net can make it harder to participate with good energy in a group conversation!

my naive understanding is that group conversations are way more about vibes, whereas 1-1 conversations are about a more even mix of vibes and content.

so, with all this in mind, here are some things that i think work decently well in 1-1 “committed” convos that don’t work well in group convos, especially at parties.

  • infodumping (conversational monopoly)
  • curiositydumping: which is a new term i just made up, meaning “asking lots of questions in a way that starts to break up the natural flow of conversation (kinda gendlin focusing-ish but unasked for)” (conversational monopsony)
  • any topic that requires lots of domain specific knowledge most of the group doesn’t have, or requires them to have experienced a thing they don’t know about and that would take longer than like 30 seconds for them to experience (i think this is why group conversations tend to be more gossip-focused, bc the social group is one of the shared areas of knowledge)
  • stories that don’t have narrative structure to them (a twist or central tension that will be relatable or exciting to the group)

i want to offer some more direct advice to myself, and to people like me, so here’s a quick description of my own failure modes:

  • feeling anxious if i’m not actively participating in every conversation, or if i’m sitting in silence around other people
  • letting my own curiosity get the best of me and asking a million questions to the same person about the same topic (and thus monopolizing the conversation)
  • not knowing what to talk about with people, so asking them questions that neither of us really find interesting

and here’s the advice:

  • it’s okay to hang back. you don’t need to constantly engage. enjoy the feeling of your friends and new strangers talking to each other. speak when you feel moved to speak, and don’t feel like your contributions must be super insightful or long winded. we are trying to vibe
  • try to keep your awareness expanded. sit near people who you trust as anchoring presences

1-1 conversation is like making a risotto. always be stirring, tasting, noticing. group conversation is like making a stew. let things simmer. take your time. trust the process. contribute where it feels good to. if you get anxious, remember that laying back and listening in a relaxed, open way is also a meaningful contribution.

if you’ve read this far, there might be a chance that you’re socially anxious. and if you are, i offer one more thought:

other people also make social mistakes. it can be easy to interpret other people’s coldness or lack of social awareness as a slight, but it’s usually not. usually they’re just also having a hard time socializing.