Several years ago as The Wife and I were trying to start a grassroots spiritual community in Colorado Springs, we would often have people over to our house. In fact, we chose that house design for its ability to hold large groups of people. We threw our lives into social networking and community building and we had a lot of fun in the process!
As a certified introvert, and generally quiet individual, sometimes I had unusual challenges to overcome as we sought to build community. The Wife, on the other hand, is a social genius and her gift of hospitality is always appreciated by everyone. I learned a few things over the course of time, but only recently did some of it begin to make sense.
Though I liked these people, the situation was excrutiating
Often I would find myself sitting with three or four other men, while the women hung out in the kitchen. Though I liked these people, the situation was excrutiating. It exhausted me to sit in a room and “chit-chat” for what seemed to be hours. I soon learned that I could handle one or two couples, but three was too much for me. The Wife, reluctantly, agreed to not invite more than two couples at a time.
Now the weird thing about this is that I can work a party as well as anyone. Put me into a houseful of people, a backyard tiki party barbeque, or a club-like setting and I’ll do fine. So why can’t I survive a simple gathering of couples.
Last week, while surveying the beautiful, big-sky horizon of the Nebraska skyline, I had an epiphany: “Two’s company, three’s a crowd.” I’ve thought about that as we’ve been driving all over the midwest, and it began to make some sense, at least in my life. I realized that I do well in small groups with no more than two others. I can do well in larger groups, but I have to be careful – often I can become the dominate jerk that I’ve worked hard to get away from. So, instead of dominating the conversation, I tend to struggle with the chit-chat.
The reason I can do well at a party? It’s because parties are often no more than a large collection of small conversations. When one conversation gets boring, or I get distracted, I move on to another small group of people. If none of the smaller gatherings interest me, I can hang out in the shadows and take it all in – without giving too much of myself.
It is emotionally draining to me
What’s really weird about all of this is the fact that I regularly stand in front of 100-300 people and give presentations. How does that fit in? Well, first of all, whenever I speak to a crowd I am exhausted afterwards. It is emotionally draining to me. Second, the public speaking gig gives me permission to set the course and tone of the conversation, without being a jerk. So, I tend to take the topics to a deeper level – and that’s where my brain finds satisfaction.
And what about Twitter? I currently follow close to 400 people and converse with many on a regular basis, how does that work? Well, first of all, Twitter is a low contact sport. Second, it is more like the party scenario, I can pop-in, or pop-out of conversations at will – or just hang back in the shadows and lurk.
Unfortunately, for whatever it’s worth, I just don’t do the chit-chat thing very well. It’s something I need to work on, but I find it very exhausting. Interestingly enough, it is those who do well in the chit-chat scenarios that seem to do well in leadership.