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

Sean Whitton <spwhitton@spwhitton.name> writes:

> You, Russ, are someone with a great deal of self-knowledge: you know
> when to make yourself scarce in order to avoid burnout.  So I don't feel
> particularly worried about the possibility that I imposed upon you.

For the record, you definitely didn't.  :)  It helps for me too that we
had a joint project to work on, so there was something specific to focus
on.  (Starting new conversations or finding something to talk about with
someone I don't know well takes the most energy for me.)

> However, I'd like to ask:

> 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?

I can't really speak for everyone, but speaking for me personally, people
don't really have to worry about me.  The important point for me is just
that people accept my answer if I don't have the energy for it.  (And
everyone at DebConf was *great* about that this year, which I really

Sometimes well-meaning folks will try to get me to change my mind, usually
with some variation of "but you can't miss this" or "I'm sure you'll enjoy
it!"  Usually I'm good at handling that, but sometimes this interacts
poorly with some aspects of my psychology and I end up feeling guilty
about not doing something I didn't actually want to do.  The general
guideline that works great for me is to offer once, but then assume the
invitation has come across and not keep offering.

In DebConf contexts, the thing most likely to come up is the day trip,
which I think is wonderful and I know the conference hosts love to show
off their city, but which for me (at least most years) is an absolutely
invaluable social break in the middle of the conference that I can spend
in a nice, quiet hotel room away from anyone else.  :)  Everyone was great
about me not going, which was lovely.

> 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?

>    This is especially relevant when there's an age/seniority
>    difference.  E.g. a more senior/older person who has no difficulty
>    with new people talking to someone junior/younger who does have
>    difficulty with new people.

I'm not sure I have any great or insightful advice, but I think being a
bit cautious about the line between invitation and pushing is the most
helpful thing other people can do.  I'm pretty good about putting my foot
down, and even still I feel a bit of pressure to go along with something
people keep trying to get me to do.  With more power differentials or
someone who's less comfortable just saying no than I am, it's possible to
push people into doing things they don't actually want to do when you only
meant to be inviting and encouraging.

In general, people are quite expert in balancing the difficult calculus of
enjoyment, energy levels, missed and passed opportunities, and novel
experiences for themselves.  This will often mean that some will do fewer
activities than another would, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're
unhappy and doesn't mean they'll regret it later.

I think there's a place for encouraging people to try something new, but I
think that place is for close friends who know someone well and have some
insight into their energy levels and costs and spoons.  With relative
strangers, I try to be inviting but not cross over into encouraging unless
they outright ask for encouragement.

This is tricky, since there *are* some people who prefer some
encouragement to make them feel welcomed, while other people find
encouragement an unwelcome push that they have to use social spoons to
navigate.  I can't say there's any formula which is going to work for
everyone, and I'm sure I err on the side of adjusting for people like me.

Russ Allbery (rra@debian.org)               <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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