In many social situations, people talk about breaking the ice – increasing the comfort level of themselves and others, starting safe conversations about topics like entertainment, weather, sports and local news, and learning a few superficial facts about their conversation companions to help the exchange continue. I’m going to propose something a little bit different that takes this ice analogy a little bit further.
What if, instead of just breaking the ice, we raised the temperature? Anyone who has lived in a cold climate knows that shoveling snow and chopping ice on a driveway is a lot harder than just waiting for the spring? In the first case, you’re often in for an hour or two of physical labor, in the second, nature does all the work. Similarly, what if instead of assuming that there was all this social ‘ice’ to be broken and worked around, we simply raised the temperature of our interactions with others?
OK, cute analogy, you say, but what would this mean in practice? The assumption of ice persists because we assume that people are naturally cold, that a social situation or event that hasn’t gotten started yet is somehow ‘awkward’ or ‘chilly’, and that some kind of social barriers actually exist between people to begin with. All of these are just beliefs and assumptions, not objective realities. There’s no rule that says that we have to spend our first ten hours with new friends talking about superficial matters before we know them well enough to get to really interesting subjects that truly matter to us.
The analogy goes further. Almost everyone knows someone who is a great catalyst for interaction – who helps get a social situation started, facilitates people speaking with each other, and connects pairs and groups with common values and interests. Wouldn’t it be correct to describe this person as having a high temperature in social interactions? Their natural temperature melts the social ice, not only for their own direct interactions, but for all those around them. Both explicitly and implicitly, their actions give permission to others that connecting socially is ok, that there is no need to be self conscious or nervous, that people are friendly when give them an opportunity and approach them in a friendly way. Someone like this is like a droplet of lava in a bucket of ice water – with so much heat coming from the lava, it’s inevitable that all the ice will melt!
So what can we do, practically speaking, that increases our social temperature? Here are a few suggestions – I’m sure you can think of others.
- Hold the belief that there is no social ‘ice’ between yourself and others, and that you can talk to anyone as easily as you can talk to a close friend
- Release fears of awkwardness, embarrassment, or standing out in social situations – most people are waiting for others to make the first move and would much rather speak with someone new than stand around holding a drink or hors d’oeuvre plate on their own
- Speak louder – most people speak more quietly than necessary at social events and it lowers the energy of the interactions. Yes, you might stand out. So?
- After you’ve met a few people at an event, you can start making connections between them – “Oh, you work in digital media as well? Have you met Frank standing over there – he’s in the same field.” People love to be introduced to others with common interests and it feels good to enable these connections.
- Challenge yourself to meet new people without speaking about superficial subjects. Don’t talk about the weather, sports, entertainment, or popular culture, at least initially. Aim to connect through shared humanity and subjects of greater significance and depth.
In social situations – which means any part of life where you’re not on your own – don’t break the ice, raise the temperature.
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