How to Join a Conversation

How To Join A Group Conversation (Without Being Awkward)

How to Join a Conversation

How do you enter a group conversation or join an ongoing conversation between others? On one hand, you’re not supposed to interrupt people, but on the other hand, someone else always seems to start talking before you get the chance to say anything. What can you do about it?

In this article, I’m going to give you tips and powerful techniques you can use to enter and be part of an ongoing conversation without being rude.

You’ll learn how to approach a new group of people and how to be a part of the conversation.

1. Direct your focus on the group

When we meet people, we tend to assume that we stand out more than we really do. Psychologists call this the spotlight effect, and it can make us feel awkward in social situations. When we feel self-conscious, it’s hard to approach a group because we assume that they will judge us negatively.

To overcome the spotlight effect, it can help to focus on what people say and allow yourself to become curious about them. This takes your mind off your self-critical thoughts.

For example, if someone is telling the group that they’ve just moved house, you could ask yourself:

  • Where did they move from?
  • Why did they choose to move now?
  • Are they doing any renovations?

You don’t have to ask all these questions — in fact, you probably won’t have the chance — but this technique can help you feel more at ease and join a conversation without being awkward. Read this guide for more tips: how not to be awkward at parties.

2. Make a subtle signal before you start talking

A few days ago, a friend invited me to a mingle his company arranged.

I spoke to one girl there who was really fun and interesting.

If I had left the mingle at that point, I would have described her as socially savvy.

But later, in a group conversation, she just couldn’t get in despite repeatedly trying to say something.

How come?

Well, the rules behind 1 on 1’s and group conversations are different. When you understand the differences, you’ll know how to talk in a group in a way that means people will listen to you.

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The nature of group conversations means that there will almost always be someone who starts talking just when you are about to speak.

In group conversations, you’re competing for attention from several others. If you want to get peoples’ attention (without coming off as attention-seeking!), the skill set you use for 1 on 1 conversations won’t work. You need to try different tactics.

Here’s an example.

Even if only 1 in 5 of the population are bad at paying attention to others, a group of 5 will usually have someone saying something just before you are about to chime in.

Lesson learned:

The girl at the mingle waited for her “turn.” But you can’t wait for others to stop talking before you signal that you want “in.”

At the same time, you can’t blatantly interrupt people.

We want to signal without interrupting

Here’s my trick that works surprisingly well: At the very moment someone’s finished talking, and I want to join the conversation, I breathe in quickly ( you do before you’re about to say something) and make a gesture with my hand.

Look at this screenshot from a dinner we recorded for one of our courses. When I breathe in, the people around me subconsciously register that I’m about to start talking. My hand gesture triggers people’s motion sensing, and everyone’s eyes are drawn towards me. The hand motion has the advantage of working even in loud environments.

By simply breathing in through my mouth and raising my hand, everyone refocuses their attention from the guy in red to me.

3. Increase your energy-level slightly

When a lot of people meet, the energy level in the room tends to be higher. High-energy gatherings are generally about having fun and entertaining each other and less about getting to know people on a deep level.

High-energy people are talkative, happy to take up space, and tend to assume that everyone else will and accept them. Here’s how to be a high energy person socially if you’re low energy.

Lesson learned:

The girl was still in the “1 on 1 mode”, waiting too long before talking.

It’s OK if you happen to cut someone off a bit too soon. To be clear, you don’t want to interrupt people, but you want to cut corners a bit tighter than in 1 on 1’s. Being part of a group conversation requires you to be more assertive when you speak up.

4. Signal that you’re an active listener

The way you listen, not how much you talk, determines whether people see you as part of the conversation

In one on one conversations, each person usually talks around 50% of the time. However, in a group conversation of 3, each person will only be able to talk 33% of the time. In a conversation of 10, only 10% of the time and so on.

This means that the more people in the group, the more time you spend listening. This is natural.

Therefore, we need to step up our listening game.

I noticed how the girl’s gaze wandered off after a while. That’s natural to do if you can’t get into the conversation, but it created the feeling that she wasn’t part of the group.

I probably spent 90% of the time just listening to others in that group. But I kept eye contact, nodded, and reacted to what was being said. That way, it felt I was part of the conversation the whole time. Therefore, people directed a lot of their attention towards me when they spoke.

Lesson learned

As long as you are involved in what is being said and show it with your body language, people will see you as part of the conversation even if you actually don’t say much.

Read more: How to be included and talk in a group.

5. Project your voice

To make sure everyone in the group can hear you, you need to speak more loudly than you would in a 1 on 1 conversation. If you are quiet, other people are more ly to speak over you.

The key is to project from your diaphragm rather than your throat and to practice until you feel comfortable varying your voice to suit the situation. Read this guide for tips: 16 ways to speak louder if you have a quiet voice.

6. Casually ask permission to join the group

If you are already acquainted with the group, here’s how to join a conversation smoothly. Simply ask, “Can I join you?” or “Hey, can I sit with you guys?”

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If the conversation stops flowing, say, “So what were you guys talking about?” to get it back on track.

7. Avoid trying to lead group conversations

Socially successful people should always take the lead, right?

Not quite. People who try to push their own agenda in conversations and talk about what they think is interesting instead of picking up on what others talking about tend to be annoying.

When you’re talking to someone 1 on 1, it’s just the two of you creating the conversation together. You can try taking it in a new direction to see if the other person is following, and that’s a great way to progress and get to know each other.

This isn’t how joining an ongoing conversation works.

Here, we need to add to the current topic instead of changing it. (This is why it’s important to truly listen as I said earlier.)

Imagine you’re in a group conversation. Someone is telling a horror story about backpacking in Thailand, and everyone is listening attentively. Here, you don’t want to break in by starting to talk about your delightful vacation in Hawaii. Your Hawaii experience might be a great conversation topic for later, but when you’re just about to join a conversation, respect the subject and mood.

In this example, your Hawaii trip is a close subject match, but the emotional tone of the story doesn’t match up at all (horror story vs having a great time).

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Lesson learned

When entering group conversations, don’t depart from the current subject.

If I wanted to join that conversation about the backpacking horrors in Thailand, I would start off by showing interest in the topic:

  • How many nights did you have to sleep under that banana leaf? or
  • How long was it before you could treat your spider bite? or
  • Didn’t it hurt when your leg was amputated?
[Here is a BIG list with questions you can ask friends.]

8. Look at the group’s body language

If you’re wondering how to know when to join in a conversation, look for a group with open body language and a high energy level. These are good indicators that they welcome you into their conversation. People in a high-energy group tend to smile, laugh, speak quickly and loudly, and gesture when they talk.

Check how much space there is between group members. The looser the group, the easier it will be to join it. In general, it’s best to avoid small groups of people who are sitting or standing very close together, especially if they are talking in low voices because this suggests they are having a serious or private conversation.

If you have a lot of anxiety talking to people, you might find it hard to accurately read body language[1] and facial expressions.[2] Research shows that people with social anxiety tend to interpret neutral faces as hostile.

You can teach yourself more about body language and facial expressions by using online resources this article or by reading a book on nonverbal communication. See our recommended books on body language.

9. Join an ongoing group activity

This gives you an opportunity to join in the conversation naturally by asking a question or making a comment about what the group is doing. This strategy works best at parties where there are usually lots of different activities going on.

For example, if several people are mixing cocktails together, you could say something , “Hey, that drink is a cool color! What is it?” Or, if a group is playing a game, wait until the current round is finished and say, “What game are you playing?” or “I love that game, can I join the next round?”

Do you have any horror stories about joining a group conversation? Or do you have any good experiences or tips you want to share? I’m excited to hear from you in the comments!

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How To Join A Conversation

How to Join a Conversation

Elsewhere in this section of the site I talk about various ways to start conversations. A lot of what I say there applies here as well. This article will cover ways to join a conversation that's already going on, which is a slightly different topic.

Probably when most people think of this subject they picture themselves at a party and wanting to get in with a circle of people who are already talking.

There are more day to day occasions where we may want to join a conversation as well, at a new job or hobby club where we want to talk to a group of our co-workers or fellow members.

Before trying to talk to a group of people you have to try to get a sense of how open or closed off they are.

Some groups are made up of close friends who are busy discussing topics that are exclusive to them. Others will be happy to have someone new join them.

However, if you can't get a proper read on them, and accidentally try and join their conversation, it's not the worst thing that can happen.

Group discussions involve everyone talking to everyone else, so however it is you get into one, continue to support that dynamic. Don't slip into a group, begin chatting up only one person in it, and ignore the others.

Saddle up to the group, listen to the conversation for a bit, and then make a contribution when it's appropriate

Sometimes this involves physically joining a circle of people who are talking, or sitting down with them. You may be able to do this silently, or it may be appropriate to give a quick 'hi' or nod to everyone. If you know someone in the group you can give them a quiet greeting and then take a spot beside them.

In other situations, say while sitting in a break room at work, you may not actually join a group, but be near them and able to hear what they're speaking about. Either way, once you notice a chance to add something relevant, you can jump in with your contribution, and then be part of the discussion. Make sure you wait for a small pause before you interject.

You don't want to blatantly cut anyone off.

Introduce yourself to everyone

At parties, mixers, or networking events it's often okay to just go up to a group of people and quickly introduce yourself if they seem friendly and open. A «Hey, how's it going everyone? I'm Heather» is all you need.

Inserting yourself into a discussion can change its course though, by putting the focus on you, or causing everyone to ask getting-to-know-you questions. Sometimes you want to introduce yourself, but also not interrupt too much.

You can quickly give your name, then say something , «Anyway, what you were guys talking about before?»

Start a conversation with the group the same as you would a single person

This can work with groups of strangers at events parties. Assuming the group seems open to being approached, you can use the types of conversation starters this article covers. Instead of speaking to one person you just address the group as a whole.

You'll need to size them up and try to get a feeling for what type of opening line they'd be receptive to.

Some examples:

  • Ask about your common situation: «So how do you guys know (the party's host)?»
  • Comment on the situation: «This apartment is decorated in such a neat way»
  • Ask them a question about themselves: «Has anyone here been to any good concerts lately?»
  • Make a statement about them: «You guys seem you've all known each other for a long time.»
  • Question or statement about an outside topic: «Anyone here see the game last night?»
  • Make a statement about yourself: (To a group of people you already know somewhat) «The craziest thing happened to me this weekend…»

«Mind if I sit here?»

If you're already sort of friendly with a group of people who are sitting around and talking, sometimes you can join their conversation by asking if you can sit down and join them.

The situations I'm thinking of are someone at work who sees a bunch of co-workers they'd to get to know better eating lunch together, or a college student who spots a group of acquaintances in the campus cafeteria.

Once you sit down they'll either start chatting to you directly, or they'll continue with what they were talking about, but now you're part of it. This may seem intrusive, but the idea is you only do it with people you're already pretty sure would be open to you joining them.

Start talking to one person in the group to get your foot in the door

If you see a larger group of people there may be someone on the periphery who's focused on something else, or who looks left out or uninterested in the topic everyone's discussing.

If you strike up a conversation with that person, you may be able to then turn your attention to the larger group and transition to speaking to all of them. Only try this on people who seem unengaged.

If someone is clearly interested and participating in the conversation, don't try to suck them away.

A similar strategy is to wait until one group member is on their own (e.g., they've gotten up at a party to grab a drink). You can start talking to them when they're alone, and then join the rest of their friends with them later.

Join the conversation by way of an activity

At a parties there are often activities going on such as beer pong, video games, card games, or board games.

Sometimes you can get a conversation going by quietly joining in the activity, say by taking a spot at the table when a game of flip cup is announced.

Then as things get underway you'll naturally have opportunities to talk to the other players. At a pub you could ask a group if they want to play some doubles pool or Foosball.

When a group isn't receptive to you

People sometimes worry that if they get turned away from a group that they'll be rejected in a really harsh, humiliating way. Usually this doesn't happen, especially if you're just approaching them to be friendly and not aggressively hitting on them or anything.

Most commonly what will happen is they'll respond to you in a token, non-committal way, then resume talking to each other and leave you standing there on the sidelines. At this point most people will get the message and quietly move on. It's a bit awkward when it happens, but hardly a scathing cut down.

To an outside viewer it doesn't look much happened either.

Of course, this isn't to be confused with when the group allows you to join, but just doesn't make a ton of effort to include you in the conversation, because they expect you to take the initiative to get yourself into it.

In that case you'll just end up being the quiet person on the periphery, and if you're feeling left out and rejected it's more in your own mind.

They'd be happy to have you in the discussion, you just have to put in the effort.


Starting and Joining a Conversation!

How to Join a Conversation

How do you teach your students to succeed in joining a conversation during your speech therapy sessions? An important social competency, it can be a difficult social communication skill for many of us to acquire, especially when we are joining a conversation with unfamiliar people. I to start by discussing with my students that there are two main reasons we engage in social conversations:

  1. To work towards establishing a relationship with people we do not know well, and
  2. The enhancement of an existing relationship among two (or more) communication partners.

When we are establishing relationships, it often involves chit-chat and small talk. It’s waving a flag that says, “hey, I’m here” and “I’m a good person to know.” This can lay the groundwork for positive future interactions.

When talking with people we know (where we have an existing relationship), our communication exchanges serve to enhance our relationships. We strive to get to know eachother in a more meaningful way.

For more information on communication responses that help develop meaningful relationships, check out this prior blog post on the conversation point scale.

For both communication scenarios (establish/enhance) people show their attitudes and emotions using verbal and nonverbal communication (often at the same time).

So, whether establishing or enhancing a relationship, we focus not only on the words the other person is saying, but also on their nonverbal cues-their tone of voice, facial expression, body language. We also consider the context of the situation.

What other people are present? What is happening? Are we in a formal or an informal situation? Essentially, we scan our surroundings to see what is going on around us that might influence what we say and how we say it.

If our students are having unsuccessful social interactions, it may be because they are focusing on only the words being said to them, not the surrounding context or nonverbal communication.

Start out by viewing this clip from the Ellen show on small talk. It is 3:40 long and it’s a monologue about the awkwardness of making small talk at events. Then, review and discuss the following ways people make small talk. See if your students can find any examples of these four ways of initiating conversations in Ellen’s monologue!

Small Talk

  • Small talk is great for when you want to have a quick interaction with another person. You might not have lots of time to have a lengthy conversation or you are unfamiliar with eachother, so you make a quick, positive comment about the weather, sports or a shared interest.  For small talk, don’t discuss politics or religion.

Sincere Compliments

  •  Sincere Compliments are a great way to make an impression on someone you don’t know…but perhaps would  to know better.

      Compliments work best when they are authentic and not always about a person’s looks.  They don’t sound sincere if they are exaggerated or if sarcasm is used.

    It can be helpful to contrast a sincere compliment with your students and an insincere one where sarcasm is used.

Asking Relevant Questions

  • Asking a relevant question is a nice way to find out more information about other people and get to know them better.  When establishing a relationship, questions should not be overly personal and are received best when stated positively.

  • Comment about setting: Another way to start a conversation is to make comments or observations about the environment or situation. This can include what another person is doing, how nice the party decorations look etc.

View this video “appropriate topics for small talk” by Extra English Practice (6:25). Then, pause the video when the words “appropriate or inappropriate?” flash on the screen. Have your student(s) answer during the pause. Then, hit play to see the answer.

Consider: when a speaker asks an inappropriate question, how does the other speaker react verbally and nonverbally?

After the video, use my free set of BOOM cards, “Initiate the conversation.” If you are not familiar with BOOM cards, this blog post might be helpful.

This set of BOOM cards provides a photograph and background information for a social scenario to provide necessary context to students. Students choose what they would say to start a conversation.

Then, it scaffolds into having students generate what they would say in situations. This set of BOOM cards focuses on the language and context of starting a conversation.

After the BOOM cards, have students practice starting conversations using one of the four ways discussed above! Use this customized spinner from Super Teacher Tools so they can spin and choose the conversation starter! Then, once they choose the starter you can tell the student who they would be talking to (boss, co-worker, parent of a friend, person on subway, clerk in a store). Practice opportunities are so important so you can intervene and support while they are performing the skill.

Tips and Nonverbal Communication

Since joining an existing conversation already implies that a conversation is already happening between 2 or more people, it’s helpful for students to consider the differences between 1:1 and group conversations so they can manage their expectations.

These differences include:

  1. The amount of listening (versus talking) can be higher in group conversations. Why? It’s math. In one on one conversations, each person roughly talks around 50% of the time, or at least that’s the goal.  In a group conversation of three people, each person will only be able to talk 33% of the time.  As the groups gets larger, the group members have less talking time.  In a large group, we have more opportunities to focus on active listening.  Have your students do the math (by taking 100 and dividing by the number of people). How many opportunities would we get to talk in a group of five or ten


Nonverbal Communicationand Active Listening: In group conversations, students should be aware that their contributions (and the contributions of other group members) could be more nonverbal (head nodding in agreement, tilting head or furrowing eyebrows in disagreement, smiling, switching eye gaze to the speaker etc.). Therefore, it makes sense for us to be teaching our students how to identify and use nonverbal communication. You might find this prior post on nonverbal communication helpful. This set of BOOM cards on identifying emotion from facial expressions can be a good teaching tool too.

Have your students view this video from Extra English Practice, (9:03) on Active listening. There is a good contrast of “good” active listening and “bad” active listening and a nice summary of the skills used in the conversation.

3. My students often complain about not getting noticed in group conversations. At these times, I let them know that they may need to “up” their energy to get noticed.

  That means using a louder voice (but not shouting) and using a few body gestures.  If they are trying to talk, using a subtle open-hand or arm gesture is one way to signal that they have something to say.

   They are not raising their hands, as in a classroom but just slowly moving the palm of their hand up and away from their bodies.

4. Look for “join us” body language. Unfortunately, there is no flashing “join us” sign. So we teach students to look for body language that shows the people are open to having another person join the conversation. Joining a conversation involves a certain amount of risk that the group may not welcome a “joiner.

” Help your students identify “green light” or “join us” body language that looks friendly and open compared to “red light” body language that looks unfriendly or indicates it’s not the best time to join in this group. Have students look for smiles and relaxed body postures. Interpreting folding of arms is a tricky one.

I encourage students to look at other clues, such as facial expressions, when they see closed arms.

Green and Red Light Body Language

Activity Idea for Identifying green and red light body language: Here’s a social communication game for practicing this skill! Play a charades game where you write out the nonverbal communication signs below.

When other students guess the action or emotion, they must also tell what this type of communication can mean or indicate in a conversation.

Teletherapist? Display these on a whiteboard and have student(s) guess which one is being modeled.

  • Looking bored,
  • Nodding in agreement,
  • Tilting head (uncertainty)
  • Smiling
  • Slightly raising arm or hand (to indicate they want to talk)
  • Switching eye gaze from one speaker to another
  • Furrowed eyebrows (confusion, disagreement)
  • Looking away from speaker (disinterest)
  • Looking at watch
  • Brief noises (hmm, oh, ya) indicating interest
  • Laugh
  • Folded arms

Another great technique is to teach your students the “read the room” strategy from Speech Pathologists, Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen from Cognitive Connections.  This situational awareness strategy provides a framework for examining these aspects of the social situation more closely: space, time, objects and people.

You can start out using this clip from Social Pragmatics: do and don’t of joining a conversation (1:44). Point out how the “joiner” makes eye contact with one of the girls just as she’s starting to talk to them!

Then, use the set of BOOM cards on “joining a conversation,” (pictured above) to explore the following five steps to joining existing conversations. Practice social scenarios are included in this deck of BOOM cards. Here’s the five steps to joining a conversation that are taught in this set of BOOM cards.

  1. Check out the group. Consider their body language and the setting.  Is this a group that seems friendly and open to others joining it?
  2. Consider your contribution to the conversation. Have a general idea of what you want to say.
  3. Make eye contact with someone in the group and move close (but not too close) to the group…. just close enough that you don’t have to shout when you talk.
  4. Ask to join and make a general greeting.  Acknowledge that you are interrupting and introduce yourself if this is a group of unfamiliar people.
  5. Don’t hog the conversation, especially if you are new to the group.  You are a guest in the conversation.

I hope I’ve given you some tips and activity ideas for this important social communication skill. If you d this content, please consider joining my newsletter – you will receive monthly social skills lesson plans for older students with clickable links, subscriber freebies and be notified of give-aways and sales!


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