How To Build Relationships When You’re Not A People-Person

Five strategies for the quiet, contemplative type

Back in the 90s, job seekers used to highlight “people-person” as a skill on their resumé. Now it’s just assumed that everyone who interacts with the world possesses this trait.

The dictionary defines it as an outgoing, gregarious person with good communication skills.

Nobody would ever describe me as a people-person. Sure, I enjoy interacting with others, but I prefer it in small doses. After an hour or so, I reach a point of saturation. I feel the urge to escape and recuperate in isolation.

Put me in the middle of a group; I won’t stand out. Throw me into a room with networkers; I won’t own the room, whatever that means. Our culture values chattiness over thoughtfulness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t remain true to yourself while adapting to the world.

The struggle of “quiet contemplatives”

There’s a name for people like us. We’re the quiet-contemplatives. We do a lot of thinking, but many of those thoughts never materialize as vocal expressions. Some folks interpret your economy with words as rude, boring, or disinterest.

That’s the feedback I had experienced for much of my life, and it hindered my ability to forge meaningful relationships.

Understand this. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re not a people-person. But to build relationships, you need to adapt your style to better fit cultural expectations while also exploiting your inherent advantages.

These five strategies will help you improve your relationships without betraying your true self.

Look for compatibility

There must be an old joke about two introverts getting together for coffee. And if there isn’t, someone should write one.

Most of my close friends have been extremely outgoing. They do enough talking for both of us. They like to speak without thinking while I prefer to listen, think, and consider before I talk.

You can’t always choose the people you interact with, but you do decide which relationships you pursue. Whether it’s a friendship or romantic relationship, personality compatibility allows both parties to express themselves in a way that feels most comfortable.

Explain yourself

I’m not sure why I never thought of this until my 40s. But this tactic has proved beneficial, especially in the early stages of relationship building when you’re getting to know each other.

If you can’t respond to a question quickly, slip in a comment that you’re thinking about an answer.

I’m not ignoring your question. I just need to think before responding.

Don’t interpret my silence as disinterest. I need to think about it.

I’m not blowing you off, I just need to think before I answer.

There’s often a kneejerk negative reaction to silence, shrugs, or vague I don’t know statements. Acknowledge you heard them. By explicitly stating you’re thinking about it, you’re communicating it’s important to you.

And when you finally do speak, they listen because they know you put a lot of thought into your answer. Over time, people will come to recognize you as considerate, thoughtful, and engaging — someone worthy of developing a relationship.

Never fabricate a false persona

As a sometimes awkward teenager and young adult, I’d often try to act like everyone else. I’d force myself to talk more, insert myself into conversations, and mirror the personality of outgoing people.

This approach never played well. It’s far better to show the world your true self. No, you may never dominate the conversation. Your antics never make your friends’ highlight reels. And you’ll never charm a crowd into drooling adulation. But you’re the level one, the contemplative one. The one people turn to for thoughtful insight.

There’s a place for the quiet contemplative in this world. Don’t surrender that advantage by fabricating a false persona.

Aim for many interactions in small doses

Within two hours of a party or even a night out, I’m ready to escape. Once I reach my limit, I get irritable. And when I finally do leave, everyone remembers my irritability. Who wants to be friends with someone like that?

It’s hard to reconcile the two desires. You need alone time to revitalize, but you also enjoy socializing. The solution? Aim for lots of social interactions, but keep them short. Know your limit and plan ahead. If staying out beyond witching hour becomes unavoidable, don’t let your irritability show.

Lead with actions instead of speech

Act kind. Show generosity. Compliment. Give thoughtful gifts. Do these things without being gratuitous. Your actions must fit the circumstances. Few people enjoy being bought. We get uncomfortable when we’re the recipient of excessive generosity or praise. It feels unnatural.

But it’s also true that most people get so caught up in their own bullshit, they miss opportunities to do thoughtful and kind things when chances arise.

Carry around a few copies of your favorite books. Don’t gift them indiscriminately, but if a conversation on the topic of the book comes up, it presents a perfect opportunity.

Check-in with friends and acquaintances. Offer your time when you can. These simple gestures go a long way toward strengthening relationships. Slick talkers may command attention, but it’s thoughtful actions that people remember.

Write out your thoughts

Here’s a way to train yourself to appear more outgoing.

Let’s suppose someone asks you a question that you can’t answer quickly. Make a note of it. When you get a chance, open your notebook and write out your thoughts until you get the words right. This exercise will help train you to process and speak your thoughts with greater speed. I like to do this at bedtime when I journal.

You won’t see instant benefits from this exercise, but over time, you’ll become better adept at verbalizing your thoughts.

You’ll also sound more intelligent than the ones who spout the first words that pop into their minds.

It’s difficult for quiet contemplatives to navigate in a world that prizes quick speaking chatterboxes. But being more thoughtful has its advantages. Don’t squander your gift. You can forge meaningful relationships, no matter your personality type.

Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. Work in Forge | Elemental | Business Insider | GMP | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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