DEAR ABBY: I am a male in my early 20s and lucky to have several good friends and acquaintances. I'm invited to gatherings and parties pretty regularly.
I have no problem relating to people I know well. But when I have to converse with people I don't know — the "friends of friends" — I feel uncomfortable.
It's not that I am particularly shy. It's that I stumble and become tongue-tied when I try to talk to someone I don't know very well. The conversation lags, and I think the other person ends up feeling as uneasy as I do.
In the scheme of things, I realize this is not like some of the other serious issues I see in your column, but I believe you have mentioned becoming better in social situations before. I don't want to come across as stuck up or unfriendly, and I'm afraid that's what might be happening. Can you help?
— DIALOGUE-DEFICIENT IN ST. PAUL
DEAR DIALOGUE-DEFICIENT: The phrase "seek and ye shall find" is one I heard years ago. It stuck in my memory because it can be applied to so many different things.
It applies in your situation because, believe it or not, when it comes to making conversation, being a good listener will do more for you than being a good talker.
If you want to make a hit with people, show an interest by asking them questions about themselves. People enjoy talking about themselves and what they're into. Give them a chance, and they'll think you're a great conversationalist.
Just remember to be tactful, discreet and not too personal. Example: Do not ask someone you've just met how much he or she paid for something, or whether the person always drinks as much as it appears he or she has that evening.
Be generous with compliments, but be sure they're sincere. Most people can spot a brown-noser within five minutes.
Stay informed about current events. The more you know about what's going on in the world, the better company you'll be. Read the news and editorials and — of course — Dear Abby.
These commonsense suggestions and more are contained in my booklet "How to Be Popular." It can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus a check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds), to Dear Abby, Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price.
But before I finish with this subject, a word of warning: Don't be a know-it-all. People who come on like they're an authority on everything are about as welcome as a skunk at a garden party. They make those of us who are just average feel insecure and uncomfortable.
And when you talk to someone, look that person in the eye. If you're constantly looking over his or her shoulder, the person will think you're looking for other company. This happened to me when I was introduced to a man who was running for office, and needless to say, the man didn't get my vote.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.