At a clinic I worked at, I noticed someone new in the medical records room. I asked if she was new there, and she said yes. I introduced myself, and there was an awkward silence. I waited about 10 seconds and said “it’s customary to state your own name when someone else tells you there’s”. Typical introvert directness.

By definition, Introverts are not shy. Shyness is a personality trait, as I have noted elsewhere in articles on this site, whereas introversion is a personality type. Introverts have a clear preference for solitude, quiet, and are overstimulated by large crowds and noise. We can find social interaction, especially meeting new people, to be uncomfortable, because it is so draining. We do like meeting people, but are selective in doing so, and want to meet people who are interesting- intriguing, fascinating. And riveting. We get bored easily with shallowness. We find it tiresome when someone makes droll comments. We do well once we get to know someone, especially if they are deep thinkers. This means we can talk about ideas, which introverts love doing, and find energizing.

Introverts are not necessarily socially awkward, though some of our traits- the individual components of personality- can be less than endearing. We value substance over form, so we can be abrupt, and direct. We do not like small talk. We want to get to the point; we want to launch into a discussion on global warming, not make random observations about the weather for this time of year. Directness saves time and is efficient, but extraverts need to communicate with more circumlocution.

As a psychotherapist, I engage in a unique form of social interaction with people. That is actually one way to define therapy: it is a unique form of social interaction, where not all of the usual social norms apply. I ask about very personal things that you would not normally inquire about, especially with someone you just met. I observe and describe behaviors, and ask for specific clarifications, confront contradictory statements and behaviors, or outright lies, and am sometimes very direct. Counseling with criminal offenders and substance abusers is not the typical warm fuzzy-huggy-touchy- feely let’s all have a group hug type of therapy. It is much more in your face. Never disrespectful, but direct and to the point. Some of this would be very inappropriate in a social situation. One time during a discussion with a lady friend, I told her to lower her voice and sit down. Yelling at me is not going to help you. As you might guess, that did not deescalate the situation. Don’t talk to your gf like she was an agitated patient. I found it increases her agitation. Some of these methods are applicable in everyday situations. Here are some ways to make a social interaction start off a little more smoothly:

1. Prepare

  • Think of what you are going to say and how you are going to act beforehand. You may have to look in the mirror and give yourself a brief motivational speech if the social interaction is going to be especially harrowing, e.g., a wedding or party.
  • Relex. You will not be the first or last person to say or do something socially awkward. Even our outgoing brethren make social errors. It is often not the disaster that you think it is. My title is probably a bit overstated, as your actual survival is not at stake here, at least not in most social interactions. If someone is sticking a gun in your face, demanding your money, this is a unique social interaction where your response actually is crucial to your survival. For most people this is not an everyday occurrence, and the stakes are not that high. (If this is an everyday occurrence, you may want to consider relocating).

2. Focus on one person at a time, and the importance of non-verbal communication.

If you are at a gathering and are not sure who you are supposed to be meeting, stand up straight, walk briskly, and pick a person in the room and go directly to them. Don’t look lost, uncertain, or hesitant even if you are. Act confident and sure of yourself. This does not mean arrogance or cockiness. Pay attention to their name, shake hands firmly, give a nod, while making eye contact, and offer a greeting. Hello, how are you, and so on. If you are an introvert, you probably won’t say nice to meet you unless it really is. The level of formality and decorum will be dictated by whether this is a social event or business meeting.

3. Keep records:

When you meet somebody new, record their name, their description, and a few key facts about them. If they share contact info, keep that of course. (Don’t record these things in their presence; it will max out the creepmeter. This is something to do later, while you are decompressing from the social interaction). This loops back to point number one: the next time you meet them, you won’t have to be embarrassed struggling to recall their name, and you can inquire about some bit of info they told you last time you saw them- their job, or some other recent event in their life. I am old school and like steno books and a good quality pen.

4. If you make a mistake or say the wrong thing, make amends.

Take responsibility and apologize. No explanation, no qualifying, no excuses or deflection- just own it, accept it, and move on. Can’t remember someone’s name- just spit it out: forgive me, I forgot your name.

Social competence is a critical skill in the business world as well as a personal level. The impression you make on others is important, and over time, will make your reputation with colleagues, friends, and acquaintances. The first five minutes or less of a social interaction can determine how people will perceive you the next time you encounter them.

 

Written by David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice clinician
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology
Freelance Behavioral Science writer