How to Act like less of a boring jerk.
Warning: long, quasi-neurotic, self-revelatory post below.
Let me start with a mea culpa here…
(Is it me, or are a lot of my posts starting that way?
Am I trying to appease some minimalist lean while still sticking to my resolutions to improve my writing?
It’s not clear, but I disgress…)
…. there are often different “versions” of myself that I present to people.
I know we all have our “work selves” and our “relationship selves” and our “close friends” selves. Those are societal roles we need to maintain to be able to sort out our acceptable behaviors and not all live like dirty hippies.
I’m cool with those.
What I’m talking about a shift in the Ryan I present to people that depends entirely on the number of conversations we’ve had previously.
I am confident that anyone who has spoken to me 4 or more times knows that I am far from a “wall flower”, and usually by interaction 9 or 10, you’re thinking “this guys kinda dick, but I also kinda like having him around”. (that’s right about where I get ya hooked…ha ha)
However, if I’ve talked to you less than 4 times, good luck getting a whole lot out of me.
Typically when I meet someone for the first time, I rarely talk at all.
I’m not sure if it’s a learned technique to “get the lay of the land”, or if it’s more of a sub-conscious thing of not knowing what to discuss with this new person I’ve just added to my memory banks, and so, in turn, my mind draws a blank and says “just nod and give short answers… that’s the best we’ve got Cap’n”.
(yes, I imagine my mind calls me Cap’n, Crunch-style)
Today, I’m pretty sure the awkward-newness vibe goes on for about the first hour or so I’m speaking with somebody. Yes, I know not holding up my end of a conversation for up to an hour is pretty shitty of me, and probably has lead multiple people to think I’m either:
- Less than interesting
- Pompous and blowing them off
Not to say there haven’t been times when one or both of these claims weren’t true, but that’s still not the type of first impression I want to leave on someone.
This seems like a good time to tell you a little story.
Here in Phoenix (where I imagine most of you live, but if not, hey, come on down. We’re recruiting new awesome people all the time…), we have an event called #buzzcation. I say “we” but really other, more compassionate people organize it, and I just show up, drink, donate, and try not to drink so much that I tell people stupid things, like reasons why I’ve unfollowed someone on Twitter….
However, before I attended the first such event, I was pretty sure I’d pull the ol’ wallflower card, and even liquid courage wouldn’t give me someone to talk to folks about.
That’s when I realized that my quietness was really bound up in a desire to not seem like a tag-along, or an irrelevant sycophant. Sure, once I get to know people, it’s pretty easy to build upon common interests, but prior to that, how to you unlock the “what do you like” box?
Maybe you make little fact sheets and pass them out?
No, that’s stupid. Don’t do that.
(well, if you want to try that and let me know how it works, go ahead….)
So, we’re still in the same spot. How does one go about “being one’s self” without knowing which bits are going to be fun and which bits will get you snapped at for laughing at the wrong thing?
Lately I think I’ve settled on, “ask better questions”.
I tried this out a few times lately, mostly when I met people who I was “aware of” before we met (bloggers, people about town, etc), basically people I really didn’t want to seem like a doofus around.
So instead of going the doofus route, and definitely not wanting to go the “pretentious” route, I thought I’d stick with “interested is interesting”.
One of two things would happen:
- the person I just met would bounce from topic to topic in a roughly organic narrative until such a point that I thought I could contribute consistently to the topic at hand,
- the person I just met would employ the same tactic on me, tossing a few questions my way, and then my ego/pretentious side would kick in and I’d start talking about something I was passionate about that day.
All in all, I’m still not sure I make a “great” first impression, but hopefully it’s better than the first two options above.
And if not, I’ve still got my devilishly good looks to fall back on.
I feel like there’s a social experiment or two in the works there.
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