If It’s Supposed to Be Easy, Why Is It So Hard?

Wed, September 26, 2007


I’m not a good networker. By nature, I’m not someone who engages easily in social chatter.

I really have to work hard at it. I mean REALLY hard.

When I’m in large groups of people my first reaction is to get a glass of wine and hang out on the edges until I see someone I know. I understand that defeats the purpose of networking or making new friends, so I try to push myself to come out of that zone. Except that I’m never really sure what to say, afraid that I’ll ask something silly or say something stupid. How do I know what other people want to talk about?

Given my druthers, I’ll just hang out and listen to what everyone else has to say, only rarely chiming in with a comment. Or maybe I’ll just come up with an excuse not to attend an event.

To say I really had to push the edge of my comfort zone when I went to BlogHer would be an understatement. Even though I was terribly excited to attend, the thought of being at an event with 800 people where I knew virtually no one terrified me. Fortunately, I met a few more people and then I felt better, but still had the lingering doubts of not being interesting enough or fun enough or smart enough.

I recently found out that I have more company on that score than I thought.

Last week columnist Connie Schultz was the guest speaker at a local news women’s club I belong to. Actually, she came because I had one of those pushing myself to the limit moments last year when I met her at a writer’s conference and asked if she’d be willing to be our guest sometime. To my amazement, she said yes.

So, I was introducing her to people on the evening of the event. With each person she met, after learning their name she said, “So, tell me a little about yourself.”

I was amazed. What an easy little question. It will always start a conversation. Even if you didn’t read the newspaper that day or you’re not up on the latest Must See TV, you still have a topic of discussion. Then I realized that almost everyone seemed uncomfortable with that little query.

I asked Connie about it. Turns out it was her coping technique when she was on the campaign trail with her husband, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, out of her comfort zone. It’s how she managed being with people she didn’t know day after day after day.

Even more fascinating was what she learned by asking voters and supporters that question thousands of times over, which shed some light on the uneasiness I saw that night in the faces of the those who were trying to respond.

“Women don’t like to talk about themselves.”

And when they do, she said, they act as though what they are is not important. She said one time a woman responded to her question with, “Oh, I’m just a doctor.”

And here I thought I was the only one with the insecurities.

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18 Responses to “If It’s Supposed to Be Easy, Why Is It So Hard?”

  1. Lawyer Mama Says:

    Wow. I’m very much like you, PM. I’m a better observer than participator and I don’t like to be out of my comfort zone. But what a simple and fabulous question to use!

  2. Julie Pippert Says:

    Is it supposed to be easy? I think it’s only easy for people who don’t think.

    It depends upon my mood and frame of mind.

    But my inner Chatty Cathy often seems to dominate. I have a sad, sneaking suspicion I am a closet Table Dancer who just wants attention.

    But the truth is I am 50/50 on the introvert and extrovert scale.

    So I hear you on the challenges. I think I worked my way up from 70/30 In favor of introvert) over the course of my life.

    That is a great question.

    Using My Words

  3. Mamma Says:

    How interesting! In so many ways.

    I would never have thought you’d be insecure. You’re so brilliant and funny.

    It’s a great coping mechanism. I might have to steal that. I’ve read that if you ask someone about themselves they’ll respond later that you were a fantastic conversationalist.

    Also interesting that women were so uncomfortable talking about themselves.

    I think if we all just let down our walls a little bit we’d realize we’re more alike than we think.

  4. Florinda Says:

    I am glad to know I have such good company in this. One reason I like blogging and the online community is that it’s a form of “networking” that doesn’t seem as intimidating as the in-person variety. In a large group of people I don’t know well, I’m also in the observer camp – assuming I’m in the group at all, since I just might avoid it. (I am pretty high on the introvert scale.)

    That’s a great tip, though – especially if you can really listen to the answer and maybe ask something more based on that. When I was younger, I was taught that it was rude and nosy to ask many questions, so I learned not to, and I’ve had to work hard to unlearn that. Mamma’s right – people do find you nmore interesting if you give them the chance to talk about themselves. And it helps to know that this is work for more people than you’d ever guess!

  5. BOSSY Says:

    Bossy’s not sure – that question might make her clam up like a crustacean. Drinking helps. Or an enormous greasy breakfast in a Chicago diner! (Wink)

  6. Blog Antagonist Says:

    How very true. The only time I could be called “talkative” and “gregarious” is when I’ve had a little too much vino.

    I think throughout history women have been taught to take a backseat. It’s a little disheartening that the repercussions of that are so far reaching.

  7. Ruth Dynamite Says:

    The questioning technique definitely works, though getting that first question out takes a little nerve.

  8. musing Says:

    Hello, I’m here via Petroville.

    I can relate to your post! About feeling uneasy when talking about ourselves, I was recently tagged for a meme: Name 5 of your strengths as a writer. It was hard! Many who’ve participated have said how uncomfortable it’s made them, but in the end it was a good exercise.

    I read there are different Spanish words for pride. Orgullo (a sense of accomplishment) and Soberbia (arrogance and conceit). I need to somehow avoid the latter but embrace the former. Not easy!

  9. Mrs. Chicky Says:

    That’s fantastic! *slaps head* Why didn’t I think of that?

    I hate public situations where I’m out of my comfort zone (which is basically everywhere). Which is why there is wine.

  10. PunditMom Says:

    We all seem to have something in common, don’t we — at least a bit of discomfort in new social situations.

    Mamma, you are too kind.

    Bossy, breakfast was great — can we do that again?

    Mrs. Chicky, my only question is this — what wine and where?

  11. Devra Says:

    or you invite an extroverted friend to attend who will not accept your tendency to be a hermit crab because your friend knows how effing brilliant and interesting you are and definitely wants others to know this about you too.

    So don’t try bein’ all quiet if I’m in the room missy. I will drag your ass right out of your shell.

  12. Queen of the Mayhem Says:

    I am a poster child for insecurities! I try to disguise mine with a brazen front….but it’s there….just below the surface!

  13. karrie Says:

    I take it one step further and actually end up saying a lot of the stupid things I was worried about. :)

    Outside of a job interview where I would already expect it, the ‘So, tell me about yourself” question makes me panic. I’m likely to tell you all about the plantar wart on my foot from the gym, or say something like “I hate pink clothes” when you’re standing in front of me in a pink shirt.

    Tell me that you feel like a big, dumb dork too though, and I’ll relax, and probably be capable of halfway normal chatter.

  14. PunditMom Says:

    I’m blushing here!

  15. painted maypole Says:

    such an interesting question, but I know I struggle to answer those kind of questions, because it feels like you have to define yourself in a few short sentences.

  16. Katherine Gray Says:

    You? I really didn’t see that at BlogHer, though I do remember the ever-present glass of wine in your hand. And mine! ;)

    I do fine with mixers, especially with women. BlogHer was a little hard for me because so many people were introverted (as expected) and I felt like I was either freaking people out with all my chattiness (one woman actually kind of ran away–I found out later she’s really shy) or I was just exhausted from all the question asking.

    What I’m *not* good at is speaking by myself in front of a crowd. I can do a panel, I can moderate a panel, but please–oh, god–don’t make me go up there by myself. And what did I get today? A speaking opportunity. I need it for my career and I have five months to get in shape for it. I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it.

  17. Damselfly Says:

    Definitely a good skill to learn. Thanks for sharing!

  18. dynamitt Says:

    I love that question. I need to use that next time. You are right its funny how many people who really don’t find this easy. I’m glad internet makes this easier for people like us.

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