Social situations can be extremely difficult for introverts as they are often getting uncomfortable with human interaction.
Last year, I was invited to present at a conference. It was a large conference, and there would be anywhere from 75-100 in my audience. After getting a few more details (like I would be on a stage for the presentation), I accepted.
One might think this is strange, given that I am an incurable introvert, but not so. A presentation of this nature is actually quite easy to do – I am “separated” from the audience and can be quite animated, engaging and entertaining in those social situations.
Afterward, however? Get me out of there. I don’t want to mingle with a roomful of strangers and have conversations – that’s anxiety-producing and exhausting. Other introverts will probably relate to this.
In fact, there are four social situations, like this one, that we avoid.
1. Gatherings of 10 or So, in Which We Must Participate
This can often occur at work. As members of a team, we have our individual tasks and may interact with teammates one-on-one or via digital communication. But when the entire team is gathered for discussion or problem-solving sessions, we get uncomfortable, especially if we are expected to contribute.
We prefer to absorb what others say, process that information, and then take some alone time to think about it. It is then that we will be able to propose solutions or add our viewpoints, and often we prefer to do that digitally.
If you are in such a situation and are uncomfortable when asked for your opinions or ideas, it is perfectly okay to say, “I want to think about this for a bit.”
You will actually look like a thoughtful person – one who considers all aspects and options before offering an opinion or solution. And it is good for you. Decisions that are made quickly and impulsively are not always the best ones.
2. Social Gatherings That Include Strangers
Introverts have a high level of discomfort in group settings that include lots of people they do not know. If they must “mingle,” they will gravitate toward those people they do know pretty well and stick with them for the duration of the event.
We are willing to include a stranger in a conversation when a close friend is beside us, for we know that they can carry on the conversation while we observe and process.
If, however, we are “on our own,” we retreat. On many occasions, I have been known to retreat from a gathering room at a hotel, proceed to the lobby, pick up the newspaper, and go to a corner to read.
We, introverts, need to understand that this is perfectly okay. Getting that alone time allows us to “re-group,” to “de-stress,” and to calm ourselves.
Of all of the awkward moments for introverts, this may be one of the worst. Picture this: you are attending the wedding of a good friend. You have developed this relationship over several years and are very close. Maybe you are even in the wedding party. As the reception moves along (you can’t escape) – you are a member of the party – well-meaning people want to introduce you to perfect strangers. Sometimes they are “matchmakers.”
So, you get dragged into social situations in which you are introduced and the well-meaning friend then “ditches” you so that you and this perfect stranger can strike up a conversation and get to know one another. Yikes. There you are, answering questions with “yes,” “no,” “I don’t know,” and feeling like a complete social pariah. As quickly as possible, you excuse yourself, leaving that stranger to think you are a bit rude.
Had you met this stranger under different circumstances, things would have been different. If the setting had been quiet, in a close friend’s home, for example, and there had just been the three of you, then you would have been able to open up and be quite social.
One hack for turning this type of situation around can be to remove yourself from all of the noise and chaos and ask that stranger to go with you. If, for example, you are in a reception room at a large hotel or community center, ask the stranger (if you think you might be interested) if s/he would like to walk out to the lobby or some other quiet place.
This will bring you down from the “overload” of the large gathering and put you in your comfort zone. You can stand or sit quietly with this person and have a normal conversation. It is perfectly okay to explain that large crowds and noise bother you and that you prefer quieter settings for conversations.
4. Large Family Reunions
Getting together with the immediate family for celebrations and holidays is a “piece of cake” for an introvert. Intimate relationships have been built over years and years, and you can be yourself without fear of a critical eye. But what happens when that larger family reunion is planned, with people you hardly know or, worse, have never met before?
Again, you are placed in a situation in which you are expected to hold conversations with strangers, be friendly and outgoing, and welcome such interactions. For you, this is one of Dante’s levels of Hell.
You have a couple of options here. Stick with immediate family members as you make the “rounds.” They can carry on conversations. Or, you can always offer to help with the tasks at hand – setting up the buffet, if there is food, etc. This will give you something to do that will take your mind off of the fact that you are uncomfortable. Plus, you will not have to mingle.
Some Final Thoughts
Life as an introvert is not always the most pleasant. You have to think ahead about work and social situations and try to plan how you will “survive” them. You have to look for places to escape when you get on “overload.” You have to “fake it” sometimes when all you want to do is run.
On the other hand, you have to remind yourself of the benefits. You are probably a more thoughtful, introspective person than many of your peers. You are the one who thinks before s/he acts, who weighs options, who considers all of the facets of a problem before offering a solution. You also tend to be more creative. And when you are a friend? You are the best.
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