What If You’re NOT A People Person?
I like people. I like to learn about people. I like to hang out with people, just not that much. I recently attended a conference and had to explain this to another attendee. She asked me why I didn’t go to the after party. I mentioned I wasn’t a “people person.” After eight hours with a group of forty strangers, I needed a break.
The conversation devolved from there. Compassion. Sympathy. Pity. Disgust. I explained that I like to hang out with some people when the mood strikes, but I’m also happy spending time alone reading a book. She didn’t think that was normal and offered some advice.
“I see a therapist who’s been a great help to me with social anxiety,” she said.
Did I tell her I had social anxiety? I don’t think so. Her intention was pure, so I thanked her for the advice. I used to believe something was wrong with me. Everyone likes to go out and meet new people. I desire that on occasion too, but only if it’s a small group. I went out with the group the next night after the conference. I had gotten to know a few of the folks and felt more eager to socialize.
Let’s start with the basics.
What Is A People Person?
This is how the urban dictionary defines the term.
Someone who is friendly, warm and kind to strangers and people from all walks of life.
I have a problem with this definition. A “nice person” or “normal human being” should be friendly, warm and kind to all people. It doesn’t matter where you lie on the continuum of introversion/extroversion. Let’s put that definition aside.
This is how Google’s dictionary defines it.
A person who enjoys or is particularly good at interacting with others.
The latter definition is what I think of when someone says “people person,” though I think I would replace or with and. My new definition would read.
A person who enjoys and is particularly good at interacting with others.
I base that definition on the way we describe people who fit that model.
“He can walk into a room and make friends with everyone.”
“She’s everybody’s best friend.”
“By the time he leaves a party, everyone knows his name.”
“She knows how to work a crowd.”
These are a few statements that nobody has ever said about me. It used to bother me. I was jealous of the guys who could own a room. I tried to become one of those guys. I read tons of self-help books. I hired a coach fifteen years ago because I thought I needed to become more outgoing to succeed in sales. I faked it till I made it. I never made it.
No, I’m Not A Hermit
I get along with most everyone I meet. That’s not a problem. I can carry a conversation for a short while. I don’t always enjoy conversations that serve no purpose. I find many people interesting, but it’s difficult for me to pretend when I don’t.
Most of my close friends have been extremely outgoing. They do enough talking for both of us. They like to speak without thinking. I prefer to listen, think and consider before I talk.
It was only recently that I came to realize there was nothing wrong with me. This is who I am. I always try to improve myself, but I don’t need to be fixed. There’s a difference. You can only fix something that’s broken. You can improve upon anything.
What Is Life Like?
If you’re like me, you pretend. You pretend to be excited about walking into a room full of strangers to strike up interesting conversations. You force yourself to go out with the group because that’s what people expect of a decent individual.
You can operate in the world of extroverts, but you tire of it quickly. I work well with groups at work. I collaborate with other people. I speak with clients daily and have forged quality working relationships. I never enjoyed client dinners or entertainment. You always have to be on for these events. That comes naturally to the extroverts of the world. I can keep up the charade for a half hour or so before I run out of gas.
I Think Before I Speak
I’ve learned to hold my own in challenging social situations from years of experience, but I’m not the one everyone remembers the next day. This realization led me to start writing. It allowed me to communicate and engage in a way that I struggle with in face to face situations.
Part of this stems from my inclination to think and ponder before I speak. It’s okay for writing because you only see the end product. It doesn’t work as well in conversation. A pause of more than a half second before answering seems to unnerve people. I know some cultures prize thoughtful consideration before speaking. Western civilization not so much.
Imagine going on a job interview and telling the interviewer you’re not a people person. Your meeting would come to an abrupt end. Everyone says they’re a people person. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes people say it because they succumb to the expectation.
If I’m not a people person, then what am I?
A cynic might call me a self-absorbed navel-gazer. That would imply excessive contemplation of myself at the expense of everyone else. That doesn’t fit. Thoughtful and reticent better describe me.
Strategies For The Contemplative Introvert
How do people like us thrive in a world dominated by gregarious extroverts? These strategies work for me — when I remember to use them.
- Give A Heads Up. When someone asks you a question, and your natural inclination is to think before answering, tell the questioner you’ll think about it and respond soon. “I’m not ignoring your question. Let me think about it before I respond.” Don’t abuse this tactic. Use it only for questions that require serious thought. If a server at a restaurant asks if you want broccoli or string beans as a side, then pick one. Use common sense.
- Write out your thoughts. Writing in my journal has helped me in every area of my life. Let’s suppose you’re going to a meeting. You know your boss will ask you for your opinion about the topic. Write out your thoughts on the subject before the meeting. You’ll be better able to verbalize your opinion later. You’ll also sound more intelligent than the ones who spout the first words that pop into their minds.
- Befriend the extreme extroverts. They love to talk without thinking. You like to think before speaking. It’s a perfect match. Don’t underestimate friendship compatibility.