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Content Any Way U Want It!

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September 21, 2023

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Classes help shy people “schmooze” more easily at social gatherings

CHICAGO – The scene: a mock cocktail party for Harper College’s Centennial. The cast: students in one of the college’s most popular and unusual courses, a laboratory in the science of schmoozing. The student-partygoers mingled outside their classroom, filling the hallway with a rousing chatter that gave the faux festivities a real feel, a bit too real for Helen Sebastian.

After excusing herself to go to the restroom, Sebastian returned to the party to find everyone engrossed in conversation, leaving no easy way to join in. In a scenario that has played out many times in her real life, she stood nervously on the sidelines, fretting about how to approach the group.

“You walk up and people give you the look like, ‘Who are you?'” said Sebastian, 41, of Palatine, Ill., as instructor Marianne Rowe-Dimas walked over to coach her on how to dive in. “You rescued me. But we don’t have you out there.”

For the socially apprehensive, it can be scary out there in the real world really scary. After all, summer is the season of socializing, of barbecues and wedding receptions, high school reunions and company picnics, of fun-and fear. While many navigate this social landscape with a natural ease, others often are plagued by awkward introductions, clumsy conversations and fumbled first impressions.

Whether due to anxiety, introversion or shyness, discomfort in new situations and lack of social skills are all hurdles to successful socializing, experts say. Any one of those conditions can cause a person to fade into the background of a social situation or to avoid it all together. The class at Harper “How to Schmooze” aims to yank these could-be social butterflies out of their cocoons.

Although it’s unlikely an introverted person will become fully extroverted, it’s possible to help them become more outgoing, said Brent Roberts, professor of personality development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Adults between the ages of 20 and 40 typically experience a natural change in personality, and courses such as the one at Harper can help facilitate that, he said.

“If you are setting the goal to change your personality, you should make it a very long-term goal,” he said. “If you are going to take a class, take a few and build on them.”

A crash course on socializing, “How to Schmooze” is designed to arm students with tools to tackle their social fears. Rowe-Dimas, a communication specialist, walks participants through the basics, covering everything from handshakes and eye contact to how to initiate, maintain and exit a conversation with grace.

She also serves as wingman during a series of exercises that simulate real world social settings, giving students guidance and encouragement in overcoming social hang-ups.

The one-day, $39 course, which Rowe-Dimas began at Harper two years ago, is so popular there’s a waiting list. The school is planning to offer additional sessions in coming months. The class, which typically has between 16 and 25 students, attracts participants from all stages of life, from young adults facing their first year of college to retirees looking to kick their social lives into high gear.

Rowe-Dimas said she often has students who say their spouses made them sign up so they will be better company at parties.

On a recent evening, she went around the room, asking people why they were there. Several grew visibly tense at the thought of speaking up. Called on to respond, one woman buried her face in her shirt and said, “I hate being around people.”

Offering reassurance, Rowe-Dimas said, “Sometimes, the thing we hate we could really enjoy if we stepped outside our comfort zone.”

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