A recent social interaction reminded me that we need to talk about glad-handing. Pull up a chair and let’s dish.

All clergy need to know how to work the room. It’s a basic and necessary skill unless you’re working in a silent monastic order, in which case you can occasionally glance at people and smile and you’re all set for your social obligations.
No introvert whining, either, it’s hard for all of us!

Do you have a story about being so drained of energy after a worship service or funeral that you stood around the reception or coffee hour unsmiling — and instantly that very day got a reputation as being “low energy” or “cold?” It happens just that fast, kids. I wish the world was a kinder place and that we wouldn’t be judged and projected upon (eg, “I don’t think he likes me” about the pastor who missed the social cue and failed to greet someone warmly), but that is la vie en rev.

(I know of a preacher who, when done with her sermon, was known to sit on the chancel with a dead expression on her face. I know it cost her a lot of support in the congregation. It may be that she was just tired but her parishioners felt that she checked out after “her” part of the worship service was concluded. I so wish I could have consulted with this very fine minister. She may have had health issues and been in physical pain after preaching. Who knows? But someone could have coached her, is my point. It’s not a game but we do have to have game faces.)

As far as social spaces and clergy go, there is networking/greeting and there is glad-handing. Don’t be a glad-hander!!!!
The difference between the two is how you center yourself (or not) in the interaction. Greeting is gracious. It doesn’t interrupt, but joins in. It feels warm and welcoming. The person or persons being greeted feel seen.
Glad-handing is invasive, smarmy, barges in on conversations with great self-importance, and makes everyone feel that they have been checked off a list. It makes me stabby.

Here’s a strategy in case you’re suffering an attack of confidence and you want to know, PeaceBang, how can I network well and not be a glad-handing smarm factory?
Approach the person or persons you want to greet strategically as you would a game of street jump rope. Stand to the side and listen to the conversation for a second or two, and beat it if it seems you have come upon an intimate or intense exchange. Scram. Put an egg in your shoe and beat it. However, if the conversation seems to be of general interest, HOLD YOUR DAMNED HORSES until there is a natural place in the flow of conversation for you to jump in and say, “I don’t want to interrupt, but I just wanted to say hi/give you my card/ask you for a donation/tell you about my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Don’t do the conversational equivalent of running straight into the rope while someone else is jumping and sending the whole game crashing to the pavement. Someone did that to me in the middle of a precious conversation the other day and it was count-to-ten time for me. It was what amorous parents must feel when they finally get some sexy time alone and a five year old busts through the door going, “MOMMY! I MADE A DOODY!”

Oh, and by the time you utter the obligatory “I don’t want to interrupt,” you have interrupted. Try not to interrupt and if you do, sincerely apologize. I am a strong extrovert who tries very hard to follow my own advice but I’m pretty sure I accidentally interrupt all the time. I never was any good at street jump rope (but I was awesome at Chinese jump rope).

Another pro tip for these potentially awkward encounters: never assume that anyone remembers you. Do not buttonhole someone you feel certain knows who you are and to what you are referring and launch into a pitch. “We exchanged e-mails seven weeks ago” or even “I left you a voice mail at the office” doesn’t require anyone to identify you… and no one listens to voice mails any more, I’ve got news for you. Re-introduce yourself and exchange some pleasantries before referencing the thing that you really hope that person will do for you.

Them: “Hi, I sent you that packet about the thing about the event so can you give a bucket of money/write a chapter by noon next Wednesday that falls on a full moon?

Me: What packet? What thing? Who are you?

Them: “Hi Victoria, how have you been? I’m Smathers Smith, we met six years ago at the Bloody Noses Clergy Support Group. I don’t know if you remember receiving a packet from me about a week ago about my organization Global Bloody Noses, but I was wondering if you did, and if you have a few minutes I’d love to talk to you about doing a presentation for our New England Bloody Nose Conference.

Me: Oh, hi, Slathers! It’s great to see you!
I haven’t seen the packet, do you have a website? Thank you for the invitation, I’d like to be able to do it if I can. Would you like a bucket of money?

So hey, keep it unsmarmy and let’s all make it our goals to work our various rooms without engendering homicidal feelings among those with whom we’d like to connect. Good luck out there. Lots of nerves on edge. Give people space.

One Reply to “Glad-Handing”

  1. Thank you for this…I’m struggling with this very thing. The congregation with whom I pastor is a small, rural community. Coffee hour is similar to a 6th grade dance, boys at one table, girls at the other…EVERY now and then we have visitors to are graciously and genuinely invited to coffee hour and sometimes they mix genders at the table. By the time I get downstairs after saying good morning and checking in on a couple of things in the chancel the introductions and seating have already happened. I always “work the room” to check in on the guys and then circulate around the girls. If there is a conversation between two or three people I don’t interrupt, but make sure I walk around the room before sitting at either table.

    Yes, it’s exhausting, but it’s important. Same thing with a funeral reception…I’d rather soak in a bathtub filled with sharpened scissors then make small talk with a bunch of folks I don’t know, but I need to walk around and see how the family is doing, how folks are being included or excluded and trying to be available. The smile is most often genuine, but sometimes it’s not. I do the best I can. That’s really all any of us can do…

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