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How to be comfortable, confident and successful in new situations

Learnings from Dr Keith Rollag’s book ‘What to Do When You’re New.’

If you want to know how to break the ice and make a good impression in a new situation, this is your guide. Whether you’re attending a networking event, starting a new college course, feeling nervous about your first day at a new job, or going to any social engagements where you’ll meet new people, read on.


Why do we feel anxious in new situations?

First of all, feeling anxious in a new situation is completely normal, so don’t feel as if you’re the only one in the room wondering how they will start a conversation with a stranger.

The book’s author, Keith Rollag, explains that humans have naturally evolved to fear the unknown. In prehistoric times, it made more sense for humans to act anxiously in new situations, as any strangers we encountered would likely want to steal from us or harm us. As humans have evolved, we have retained this distrust, which has been enforced by our upbringings, for example, being constantly warned to be wary of talking to strangers.

At the same time, humans fear being excluded from groups. Humans are a social species, which means we have learned through evolution that being part of a community or group is safer and more successful. This longing for inclusion is still present in humans today.

Humans have been left with this natural, paradoxical anxiety in new situations – we are wary of strangers, yet at the same time, we want to fit in.

So, what can we do about it?


How to change your mindset

According to Rollag, the best way to reduce anxiety in new situations is to begin thinking about them as learning opportunities.

There are three ways to do this:

  1. Coach mindset – think of new situations as training exercises where you can practice and get feedback.
  2. Gamer mindset – start thinking of new situations as if they were social video games where you could improve each time you play and move up the levels. It’s okay to fail because you can simply reboot the game and try again.
  3. Beginner’s mindset – start walking into new situations feeling excited because you’re about to learn or try something new.


How to introduce yourself

The author suggests that the best way to overcome worries about introducing yourself is to follow a strategy.

  1. Greet them.
  2. If appropriate, ask them if they have a moment for you to introduce yourself to ensure you’re not interrupting anything important.
  3. Say who you are and why you’re introducing yourself – establish why you should know each other.
  4. Keep it brief and respectful.
  5. You can follow up with a more extended chat to establish the relationship’s basis if appropriate.
  6. Ask lots of questions and be engaged.
  7. Remember their name.


Helpful recall strategies to remember names

  1. Imagine the person standing next to a friend of yours with the same name, and remember them together.
  2. Imagine the person’s name written across their face.
  3. Repeat their name during the conversation, such as saying: “Hello Joe, nice to meet you.”



The author suggests a few ways to navigate that first chat successfully. The goal is to find out what you have in common and how you can connect in future.

  1. Ask lots of questions – people like to feel understood or that you’re trying to understand them.
  2. Talking about yourself too much tends to sap energy from the other person, so keep it balanced.
  3. Be positive and energetic and focus on giving energy to others rather than trying to get what you can for yourself out of the interaction.


Take notes

It may seem strange, but this is an excellent technique for getting to know someone for the first time, especially at a networking event or work. Take notes after the conversation, though, not during, as this does look strange! You’ll want to remember things like names, backgrounds and anything you want to discuss again in the future, which can sometimes be forgotten in the moment. It’s a simple trick to jot these down on your phone when you have a moment.


Key takeaways

The key takeaways from this book are that it’s normal to feel anxious in new interactions, and you should remember to treat it as a learning experience. Remember that healthy relationships are all about reciprocal altruism – this means that if you give energy to others by focusing on them and trying to understand them, they are likely to want to return the favour. Focusing on the other person may also help you feel less anxious, as you’re not focusing on yourself as much.

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