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Fitting in or Getting Noticed

Getting back to “Normal” after the Pandemic is really going to be a strange experience.

Connecting with people will be different.  Personal connections in a post-pandemic world, making an impression and establishing your unique identity, are things we should all pay attention to in a new setting where the dynamics and rules have changed.  We’ll have a new set of relationship skillsets to master relating to groups.

Take holiday parties. Parties are a real laboratory for how we relate at work and in the rest of our lives.  This  Christmas will be the first time in over 2 years that I’ve attended a party.   No matter what your faith community is, you’re likely to attend a few.

It’s even hard for me to remember what parties were like before the pandemic.  I remember looking for an unfamiliar address and hoping to find parking in a packed neighborhood.

I’d walk into a room filled with people, most of whom I didn’t know.   There was ambient ambiguity, uncertainty, and an aura of stress.  I remember the food and the guests moving on both sides of a dining room table piled high with holiday fare. 

Sometimes there was laughing and camaraderie, people greeting each other and catching up on their lives. 

But remembering back, the mood was often stiff and uncertain—nobody really knew how to react or get into a conversation while precariously balancing a plate and a drink. 

It seemed more like a line at an old Luby’s Cafeteria where the goal was to move through the line, find a corner in the room, and hopefully connect with someone they had known in the past. 

Visualizing the post-pandemic party isn’t easy.  There will be guests working for the same organization who have never seen each other except on Zoom.  Will there be tables filled with food in clear sealed wrappers?  Servers will definitely be wearing masks as well as some of the guests.  There may be a certain air of nervousness because there’s sure to be some anti-vaxxers in the crowd. There will be a lot of very cautious people in the room.  Everyone’s remembering someone who caught the virus, some even while vaccinated, and wondering if this is the event where they’ll get infected.

But in many ways, the new post-pandemic party will be just like the pre-pandemic party with all of its social awkwardness and uncertainties.  It’s difficult to see how I’m going to fit into the post-pandemic social situations, but also thinking back, I really never fit into social situations like these parties before the pandemic. 

I never knew who I might see and who I was going to be.  I might arrive at the party still trying to decide.  Did I want to arrive at the party as Mr. Achievement, impressing you by telling you about my latest triumph and achievement?  That’s so often met with someone who can top anything you tell them.  Others just seem to be totally unimpressed with my litany of greatness.

Or maybe I’ll want to arrive as Mr. Everybody and try to be like everyone else.  In that role, my goal is just to fit it and be a real guy. 

I’m really good at holding up conversations with people I don’t know—it’s called mirroring, making them think that you are just like them.  I only have to ask them a question like the name of their dog, and they’ll spend the rest of the evening telling you all the cute things their pooch does and assume I’m fascinated.   This year I’ll be able to ask questions like, “Which vaccine did you get?  How did you manage to get on the schedule?”

They probably won’t ask me anything during their monologue, but they’ll go away happy, even as I go away bored.

The problem is that in those one-way conversations with guests, I haven’t achieved any identity with the person I’m talking with.  I’ll fade into nothingness in their minds as well as my own.   How do you achieve a personal identity that is important to you, your life and career as you make your way around the room?
How do I establish my personal identity so that people know me and recognize me as significant, with people who matter to me and I to them?  How do I get people to consider me interesting, capable, and someone who matters to them?

Here are some principles that might help:

  1. You might not agree, but even trivial conversations are important.  It’s important to connect with people.  There are many people who don’t feel the need for human interaction.  Yet human interaction is a part of human health.  Connections actually help you maintain physical health. The most important thing is that we need other people who can be key to our success and survival—and you don’t know who that person is or when you might need them.
  2. It takes patience, persistence, and technique to form relationships.  Unless you’re 7 feet tall and come riding into a room on a huge, white prancing horse, chances are your arrival anywhere may be ignored by all except the people you know.  It’s going to take time and more than just one occasion to build even a casual relationship.

    The person you’re talking to at the corner of the room may have little significance to you, but they may know the person who can change your life.  That’s why it’s called networking.
  3. You have to break the social rules of groups—insert yourself, interrupt, take the stage.  Listening to an evening of monologues or paying homage to Mr. or Ms. Big who can dominate a group process is a waste of time to both you and the world.  I’ve been told it’s rude to interrupt, but when nobody stops talking, I stop a person in mid-sentence and tell them a bit about who I am and why they should know me.  Here comes the technique—you can be a colossal bore if you go into the “how great is me” mode, but not grabbing the conversational ball is like playing basketball and never getting the chance to score.
  4. Look for Opportunities to Involve the person you’re talking to in what you do. Carol and I began the Dream Come True Foundation 15 years ago, and I insert myself into being able to tell people about the hundreds of people we’ve helped escape poverty to a middle-class life in about 2 years.

    All too often when I begin to talk, the person I’m talking to puts their hand over their wallet thinking I’m about to make it lighter.  But people are eager to hear about and meet our Dream Achievers.  They are eager to become mentors or serve on our board.  When you engage with people you connect with them.

    When you talk to a person, you exchange a few pleasantries.  When you get to engage with a person, you’ll be friends for life.

Everyone has their own style of interacting with groups—some want to be an unseen member of the group, while others are assertive and bold and seek to lead the group.  You can learn about how different people operate by learning more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  One of the best resources is the Delta, Inc. Interactive Type Table http://delta-associates.com/mbti-resource-center/ What is your MBTI type?  You’ll enjoy reviewing how your personality is wired.  You can immediately access the types of other people around you.  If you’d like to learn more about MBTI, contact us.

One thing is certain.  Unless you choose the life of a hermit on a deserted island, you’ll always be dealing with the question of how do I fit in—how do I stand out?  If you always fit it, you and everyone else will think you’re invisible.  If you are always trying to be the center of attention, people will become bored with you and scatter when they see you coming.  The goal—which takes art and science–is to interact with people in such a way that you fulfill your social needs and are seen as a person of significance. 

Austin, Texas

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