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Re: Being nice to introverts/the highly sensitive (was Re: "Breaking Cliques at Events")


the following is happily based on my personal feelings and my personal
experience. Please be sure not to generalize.

On Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 11:03:23PM -0700, Sean Whitton wrote:
> I am someone who has no real barriers talking to new people (except a
> little when they have famous names like "Russ Allbery" ;)) and having
> always been like this, I am not able to imagine myself as someone who
> finds meeting new people difficult.
> Further, in my day-to-day life I am in a culture -- a university --
> where the norm is to assume that nobody is uncomfortable talking to new
> people, and if they seem like they are uncomfortable, it's quite
> acceptable to just pretend that they're not (I'm neither endorsing nor
> criticising that culture here).

Doesn't a University have its fair share of socially dysfunctional nerds
as well (me partly being one of them because I am usually perceived as
somebody very talkative and extroverted but I'm really not)?

> Given the above, at DebConf17 -- my first free software conference -- I
> sometimes worried that I had imposed myself on others by
> enthusiastically and expectantly introducing myself and asking them
> about themselves.  By 'expectantly' I mean that I approached them in a
> way that might make them feel obligated to respond with a similar level
> of energy.  This is not a reasonable nor a kind demand to make of
> someone who has difficulty meeting new people.

You'll never know how the messages you send are received. The only way
you'll notice is carefully watching your counterpart and reacting
reasonably on signs of uneasiness. For example, I have difficulties to
maintain eye contact when I'm uncomfortable (which is why I love having
such conversations in the dark or in the car where I have an excuse to
look on the street instead of the eyes).

> 1) am I right that those of us who have no difficulty with new people
>    need not worry about those introverts/etc. who make it clear that
>    they know how to look after themselves viz-à-viz their
>    introversion/etc.?  Or are there steps we can take?
> 2) for those people who have difficulty with new people but are /not/
>    like you -- do not have techniques to handle their energy levels; not
>    fully aware of how they are -- what can those of us who have no
>    difficulty with new people do to avoid imposing ourselves upon them?

It is hard to give universal advice. Generally, I believe that self-care
and self-protection is the job of each individual hirself. You can only
look for signs of uneasiness and discomfort and ask your counterpart
about this if you think that this might be the case. IMO, it's your
counterpart's obligation to either retreat or to voice the uneasiness.

Personally, I can be quite happy on conferences quietly dragging myself
from talk to talk while avoiding the small-talk situations between
events. Heck, I even have days where I avoid my own filter-bubble
because I simply don't feel like communicating - I spent the entirety of
33c3 being "alone among ten thousand people" while not talking to
anybody. And I still tremendously enjoyed being there and had the
opportunity to re-charge my batteries while being - silently - among my
own peers.

Feeling even a remote suggestion of authorities to "please try to meet
at least n new people each day and get acquainted with each other" will
greatly reduce these opportunities, because even if I continue doing
things "my way" it will increase my feeling of inadequateness, just
because a loud small group of easy-going extroverts want to force their
way of life upon me and suggest that my way is inferior in some way
without actually saying so.

> (I'm deliberately avoiding the term 'extrovert' because (i) I am really
> not sure what it means; and (ii) I want to discuss a much more specific
> dichotomy which is probably not all of extroversion, namely "those who
> have no difficulty with new people" / "those who do".)

Well done. I didn't manage that, so please take me using "extrovert" and
"introvert" with a grain of salt. I myself am one who is not easily
categorized by this metric.


Marc Haber         | "I don't trust Computers. They | Mailadresse im Header
Leimen, Germany    |  lose things."    Winona Ryder | Fon: *49 6224 1600402
Nordisch by Nature |  How to make an American Quilt | Fax: *49 6224 1600421

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