I am reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Although I maintain that I’m not an Introvert–my Myers-Briggs has me almost down the middle with a point or two over the line to Extraversion–I find crowds, longish social events, noisy parties, and the need for chatter in groups to be challenging. I’m not shy. I think I can hold my own in a crowd and I’ve never seen a podium I didn’t like. But given a choice, I’d pick quiet conversation, one or two people at a time.
Career or job search wise, the holidays are terrific for making and renewing connections. Wherever you are, folks are probably out and about, shopping, eating, drinking, or cheering one or more teams to victory. My favorite choices for seeing people: shopping or walking the dog. Either way, I have a built in excuse to hustle onward in the journey (my goodness, look at the time), I have either a leash or a prospective gift in my hand for discussion purposes, and I enjoy the activity, a lot. I meet a lot of new people in stores, not so much with the dog.
But you can’t shop and saunter your way through December, though you may have weathered late November. Here are Eight Tips for the Introvert who wants to participate, struggles to feel good about all those gatherings, and needs effective tactical maneuvers for the seasons.
1. Volunteer to be a worker bee. “Can I come early and help you greet?” “Let me pick clear the table; you keep talking.” “I’ll drive; I don’t mind dropping you and parking the car; I can catch up.” The structure provides you with purpose and distraction from your own discomfort; and, bonus, you give the gift of genuine help.
2. Make plans for short visits with friends or acquaintances. Buy a coffee and doughnut in a special place–catch up, but not in major decibels over the karaoke.
3. Drop off thoughtful notes, things you baked or bought from someone who does that well. You are just dropping off; you have other stops to make and were not expected. I think this is brilliant; the Christmas I met my husband, he ordered 20 of something called a Racine Kringle, and showed up at my door with one. The other 19 went to different friends and clients; I got to help deliver. They were not expensive, but they were absolutely divine, unexpected, thoughtful, and sweet both as a gesture and in the fact that there is nothing like them in the universe. That bakery is no longer in business here in Florida, to my everlasting sorrow.
4. Write yourself some talking points, and write yourself some sweet little questions that get other folks talking about adventures, new babies in their lives, or favorite foods. For talking points, this year I am prepared to mention our dog Spike, newly well behaved after two years of managed crazy, and newly discovered homemade doughnuts at the St. Pete Bagel Company (which are exceptional, funny, and for us, can go the direction of a Seinfeld episode in a heartbeat). We also bring up our adorable and interesting grandchildren who live on a farm, raise and show chickens, and who have llamas named Tina and Poppy. And I ask about others’ plans and resolutions for 2014.
5. Keep moving. Don’t sit down if you can avoid it; if you sit, you will either a.) end up sitting quietly by yourself for what will feel like a very long time, or b.) end up listening to or talking to one person who you don’t know well enough to sit and chat with for that long. Interesting conversation groups don’t gather around the seated; remember this. Full disclosure: I sit down often; I am highly confident and generally like whomever else shows up on my island, if anyone does. I can talk to anyone and am perfectly happy doing so, or not doing so, either way.
6. Unless you are very practiced and well-behaved at all times (do not kid yourself on this one) do not drink alcohol. If you are not a talker, you will end up drinking a lot more than you intended, whether out of nervousness or because there isn’t that much else for you to do. Bad behavior is harder to live down than quiet behavior.
7. And there are don’ts: don’t tell jokes as a substitute for conversation, don’t tease or flirt with people to conceal your discomfort, or make up stories, don’t bring up religion, politics, your job search or career problems or plans (unless you are asked, and then only briefly; the right way to handle this is to say about three pleasant, positive sentences and then change the subject), your health, any gossip of any kind, or the caterer’s failure to meet your expectations.
8. Big changes in your life have their own rhythm and their own timing. Parties, dinners, gatherings are not necessarily a good time to announce your impending divorce, job loss, foreclosure, or other downer. Uplifting news, delivered discreetly to people who know you, yes. Crises shared at a party, no. Never. If, however, you are accustomed to being in a place with one who is no longer with you, have a good, short, acceptable response to inquiries about that individual. Leave people speechless or teary at your peril, seriously.
Connections are merely connections–the opportunity is to share an experience so that you can simply get to know others better, and perhaps make new friends or renew old friendships. Holidays bring people together in some of the same places, and before we re even aware, we have a little crowd or community of shared friends around us. Know who you are and what you can and can’t do–holidays are negotiated, no matter who we are. Before you embark, think about and plan for whatever will make you feel peaceful, loved, and loving when January cranks up and 2014 is on the doorstep.