The Art Of Socializing

“You Have To Do What You Have To Do.”

That is my maxim in life. Regardless of your feelings, if something must be done, then it must be done.

I am a problem solver. I don’t allow problems to continue wreaking havoc in my life.

I might not like certain things, but if there is no getting around the problems/issues, then I will make myself deal with it.

I used to dread socializing. I couldn’t make myself do it as a child. I always pestered my mom “Mak, bila nak balik rumah kita ni?” whenever we were out socializing at other people’s houses. My mom had to excuse herself early than she intended to because it would not take long for me to start causing tantrum. 

I didn’t think I had any social anxiety or social phobia. I just felt awkward having to pretend that I was interested in other people when I actually didn’t. I felt awkward having to suffer the painful silence as the conversation dried up with no one having anything to say.

I was just bored. And could not make myself put the effort. 

But I recognized that I had to overcome my inability to make small talk. I have to do what I have to do, I told myself. I couldn’t hide away in my room every time guests came to our house. My mother would  have my head! “Tetamu mai kita kenalah keluar, Kak Ngah. Semua tanya kak ngah dok buat apa sampai tak keluar bilik. Very rude lah.”

I always had some excuses. Tidur. Baca Buku. Tak perasan orang mai. 

I am not shy. I never was shy. I am just an introvert. But when it comes to things I am really interested in, I can be chatty enough and sometimes downright vocal. I am a vocal introvert. If a topic interests me, you will have a hard time shutting me up. But if a topic does not interest me (let’s just admit that small talks are crazy boring and we just do it socially in order to be polite) or I am meeting someone for the first time, I would be very reserved and awkward and therefore I would try my best to avoid having to deal with such a situation.  

But I knew I could not get away with excuses for long.

So, I solved my problems when I was in my early 20s. I observed how people make small talk, I analyzed how they carried themselves during social events and then I imitated accordingly. And now, I am quite good at faking my comfort at making small talk (while deep inside, I cannot wait to get back into my private sanctum sanctorum; the innermost of my private world where stories are enthralling and mysteries are beguiling)

So when one day my patient came to me and told me that she was a very shy person (but her shyness is not yet a disorder of any kind) and she didn’t like that shyness (she is a shy extrovert. Yes, there exists a shy extrovert; just like there exists a bold introvert) I was very sympathetic with her plight. She reminded me of my younger self. Like me, she has problems coming up with something to say to keep the conversation rolling and ends up not saying anything and then the whole awkward silence embarrasses her. 

This inspired me to write about tips on how to make a small talk for this post. I would share with you what I do to make small talk appear effortless. (I am not always spot on and successful in how I do it. But at least, I no longer feel agonized when I have to do it) Hope it helps everyone out there who has the same problem as me and this patient of mine. All these tips are the result of my reading, my observation of other people’s conversation and from my own extended practice at small talk. I am very proud of these tips because I think it’s been working great for me. Maybe you can practice them when you are attending the many open houses throughout this month of Syawal. 

So, here they are:

1)Be approachable. Just smile.

-Ok, my sisters would laugh their heads off at this. Because I am actually not approachable at all. My colleagues and my own close friends had told me of their first impression of me so many times in the past for me not to have a good insight of my unapproachability. They said it was my bitchy-resting-face that scares people from trying to approach me. But that is because I was not trying to be approachable at that time. I was not making any effort to seem approachable because the situation didn’t require me to do so.

-But what if you are attending a social function or you yourself is the host for a kenduri or a family event? You have NO CHOICE but to mix and mingle. In THAT situation, I MAKE myself approachable. The simplest thing to do is smile! And talk about food. And keep asking them to “tambahlah lagi,” or “makanlah lagi”. You know, things like that! Over and over again. So bosan, but you get the idea. 

-Or if you are the guests (instead of the host), you can comment on the deliciousness of the food. Or exchange recipes on how to make some of the delicacies (even though you KNOW you are not going to cook any of it. But just show that you are interested in all the ingredients and how to prepare them. The point of the whole thing is just to keep the conversation rolling. Yes… we have to suffer the boredom! But you have to do what you have to do.). 

-The point is just to keep it superficial and light. 

-Avoid talks of politics/race/religion. Again, keep it light and superficial. (unless you are lucky enough to find that rare deep thinkers among the guests with whom you can talk about any controversial topic that strikes your fancy. In that case, go ahead and show your true nerdy, geeky colours. Hahhah). 

 

2)Go to an event with a friend(s) who is more outgoing and extrovert than you. 

– This is my favourite trick! And it works every single time! 

-This friend can do all the approaching and all the talking with the host and you simply comment and interject every now and then. Whatever it is your outgoing friend said, you simply confirm it and elaborate on it. That way, you don’t need to rack your brain trying to come up with things to say because your bubbly friend will do it for you. 

-I see how great this works every day between my mother and my father. My mother do all the talking/ ice-breaking and my father do all the nodding and brief elaboration. It’s like watching a beautiful dance. But you must see my father when he is talking politics/business… THEN, he can really talk! Hahah. 

 

3)People like to talk about themselves. So, ask them questions about themselves. And elaborate and respond accordingly based on their answers.

Ask them about their children. People love talking about their children (something free, single people like me might not be able to relate yet). This is something I notice in almost everyone. 

I memorized the names of my neighbours’ children. Whenever I bump into my neighbour, I would ask her about her children and she lights up when she talks about them. When I was a teenager, I would not bother asking these type of questions because I was not interested to know, anyway. But the main point of socializing is not for extracting information that you want to know. That is not the point. The point of socializing is just to be nice and to establish a connection and not looking awkward doing it… I think. (Actually, I don’t know what is the point of socializing. Hahha.) 

And please, appear interested with their answers. When they give their answers, you follow it up with further questions. 

When I was a teenager, my conversation was very short and awkward. Because I didn’t yet bother to learn to solve my ‘small-talk problem’ at that time. So my conversation always turned out like this:

My neighbour: “Anak Kak N yang bongsu tu dekat UITM la ni. Dia dok buat engineering.”

Me: Oh. Hmm…Okey. 

(Hahhaha. Yes, pathetic gila! Because, I was just not interested to know. So I would just say “oh, ok.”)

But now I have improved. *proud silly grin*

Me: Oh, buat engineering. Dah tahun berapa dah (really, I don’t care tahun berapa. But as I mentioned before, socializing is not about getting any information that you really want to know. It is just about appearing interested even if you actually aren’t)

Kak N: Dah tahun tiga dah. 

Me: Oh, tak sampai setahun lagi dah nak grad la. (yup…. saying the obvious is part of the socializing game. Hahha. When I was a teenager, I would not bother saying something like this. I mean, if her son is already in 3rd year, OBVIOUSLY there would only be one year left until graduation, right? So, why bother saying something like this, I thought. But now, I know the reason we bother to say things like this… it is to fill up our quota of the conversation. Seriously! That is the whole purpose of saying the obvious, and now that you know, just do it even when you think it doesn’t make sense!)

Kak N: Tu lah… lega lah. Tinggal dia sorang ja tak habis belajar lagi. Lepas ni Kak N tak gaduh pikiaq dah. 

Me :(Because I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I then introduced another related topic… which was, her OTHER children, of course).  Fatin pula dok buat apa la ni? (of course, it requires you remembering the name of the other children. LOL)

Hahha. Yes, I have sooo mastered the art of making small talk! Now, I can do it almost automatically! It was painful at first. But I did it! 

So the tips is simple: Keep the conversation rolling by asking questions about themselves because people love talking about themselves and follow up on their answers with appropriate comments (even when you have to say the obvious, and feeling stupid for saying such an obvious thing). And when you have nothing else to say on one topic, introduce another related topic with another question. Do NOT abruptly introduce on an unrelated topic because that would’t look or sound smooth. ‘Related-ness’ and ‘smooth transition’ of one topic after another, after another and after another…. that is the trick!

 

4) Don’t Avoid Social Situation. Practice until it becomes part of your skill. (this is easier said than done, I know! Our first instinct is to avoid and run but we have to resist the urge to run if we are serious about improving our socializing skill)

We can all learn a lesson from this dialogue between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (this reminds me why i love reading literature. It makes you pause and think):

Mr. Darcy: I do not have the talent of conversing easily with people I have never met before.

Elizabeth Bennet: Perhaps you should take your aunt’s advice and practice?

Elizabeth Bennet was being sarcastic but quite accurate! 

Back in form 4, I hated Add Maths… but I wanted to get straight As, and therefore Add Maths must be mastered by me no matter what. So I practiced Add Maths in every spare moment I had leading to SPM and I made it happen, thank God!

Socializing is just like Add Maths! If socializing was made an exam subject, I bet I would bother to master it ever since I was a child. But unfortunately, it was not an exam subject. I didn’t feel the importance or the need to master it the way I had to master Add Maths. I thought that socializing involved a lot of discomfort and play-pretend and I would not stoop to that level, I felt. I should be myself, I thought.

But I had my paradigm shift, thanks to Elizabeth Bennet! Haha. She made me realize that socializing is a skill… some are natural at it and some require practice with it. Just like Add Maths! It is not about not being yourself and being pretentious…. you practice it because it is a life skill! If you can practice Add Maths, why can’t you practice socializing? Right? 

I didn’t go around saying “Practicing Add Maths is like being fake and pretending to like Add Maths.” No! I STILL don’t like Add Maths. But I had to do what I had to do, remember?

Just like we shouldn’t think “practicing to socialize means we are pretending to like socializing and not being ourselves”

 This is not a question of ‘liking’ or ‘being ourselves’. It is the question of having the skill so that you can do it in a situation when it is not avoidable. Because we are problem solvers! We just have to do what we have to do! Being good at socializing, is unfortunately, a coming-of-age skill. Part and parcel of becoming an adult (because you can no longer depend on your parents to do it for you.)

 

5) Try to be as genuine as possible even though  socialising  requires some amount of ‘faking an interest’. 

Just because socialising does require an amount of faking your interest (by asking questions you don’t really actually want to know), it doesn’t mean you cannot be genuinely yourself. What do I mean by this?

Well…

For example, when people ask you questions, you can answer those questions honestly. They might ask you back the questions you have asked to them. 

For example:

You: Anak hang Aidan buat apa sekarang?

Acquaintance: Dia buat engineering la ni. Alhamdulillah, results  okay. Pointer four flat baru-baru ni.  Alan pula buat apa la ni?

You: Dia major sains politik. Minor in literature. Dia memang minat social sciences. (this is an honest answer, right? Don’t say your son is doing medicine and also has a four flat pointer if it is not true! I mean, there must be limits to bragging too!)

Socializing is not something we introverts are naturally good at… so it does require an effort to fake an interest and to ‘seem’ like we are enjoying ourselves. Our general demeanour might be jovial, but inwardly we might be longing to get home and get started on our reading. We have no choice but to fake this general happy demeanour in order to maintain politeness. (it would be rude to have people think we feel bored by their conversation, right?)  But that is where the faking stops…. the actual content of the conversation must be real and true. 

 

6) There are online social skills guide

Yup! There are a lot of articles and books written on how to socialize. I have read them myself (in the course of trying to solve my problem with small talk)

But I don’t suggest you to buy any books for it. Internet articles will do. 

Because like Add Maths, you cannot just read on it! Practice is key! 

But reading on the theories would come in handy too…. so just read off the internet on that subject. And then go out to practice. Practice, practice, practice. 

***

I have mentioned before that the ‘self’ is fluid and changeable. That is why I always say ‘we do what we have to do’ regardless of our discomfort or real feelings about it. If that is our responsibility and it is expected of us, then we have to learn to adapt.

Instead of having a ‘fixed mindset’, we must have a ‘growth mindset’.

What do I mean by that?

The concept is a bit like “nature vs nurture”:

When you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you either are or aren’t good at something, based on your inherent nature, because it’s just who you are.

Whereas people who have a growth mindset believe anyone can be good at anything because your abilities are due  to your actions.

And personally, I think having a fixed mindset is harmful and one of the perpetuating factor to depression and anxiety. If you believe that you cannot change even when what you are doing is not working in your favour, then what else is there to do but to give up?

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This is what I always tell my patients. To have a growth mindset!

Remember Elizabeth Bennet? She told Mr. Darcy to practice! Practicing is something that those who have a growth mindset will do.

So, all the best to all aspiring socialites out there! We can do this! 

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****

Last but definitely not least, Selamat Hari Raya from the Azmee family and Maaf Zahir Batin. Taqabballahu Minna Wa Minkum.

Below are some of the pictures that we took on the first few days of Eid (some of the pictures do not contain my Kak Long as she didn’t make it back until on the 3rd day of Raya). There are a lot more pictures in Facebook and Instagram but I decide to only post a few here. I think my blog deserves a bit of colourful spicing up in this blessed month of Syawal.

 

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Our formal Raya picture. Look at my father… so serious! Hahah.
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Our silly free-style picture
More silly free-style pictures without our father because he is not into taking pictures/selfies like all his vain narcissistic daughters. Haha
And even more silly pictures…
Just the girls and the mom…😍😍😘

 

Sisters Bonding Time was on the 2nd and 3rd day of Raya. Tak sah raya kalau tak ambil gambar kat halaman rumah dengan baju raya. LOL. We missed my youngest sister because she was not around at that time. And my eldest sister was also not here because she was stuck in traffic jam on  the way to balik kampung here. So just me, Izati and the heavily pregnant Alida.

 

 

On the 3rd day of Raya, we went for our usual sisters-coffee-time at Starbucks. They left their husbands at home, because, of course! Who would want  husbands to tag along when the sisters are gossiping? Right? They would only feel excluded by our loud voices speaking on top of each other as we tend to do every single time.  Haha.

We missed Alida here because she was very, very pregnant and didn’t feel like going out and we missed my youngest sister Wani as she had gone back to the uni to start preparing for her final exam in dentistry. Their absence was deeply felt but it didn’t prevent us from having a great time. (LOL, sorry Wani and Alida.)

And on the 4th day of Raya (my last day of cuti raya, sobs sobs), I brought Kak Long to Gunung Keriang for hiking because she said she wanted to give it a try. I was happy to do it because I had started feeling guilty about all the calories I had consumed in the past few days. At the end of the hiking trip, my Kak Long learned to respect the level of my fitness to be doing this activity so very frequently. Hahha. She learned that she needed to increase her fitness level ASAP. “Tunggu aku balik next time… I will be fitter,” She said.

I laughed at the hilarity!

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Healthy life-style.. KONONnya!

 

Until next time, my dear readers. 🙂

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Quiet By Susan Cain: A review

quiet

I hate socializing.

I am not shy. But I don’t like to socialise. I won’t be the first person to greet any new staffs in my department and make them feel comfortable, but neither would I unnecessarily cause them any discomfort. I won’t be the first person to smile a welcome, but neither would I make any unwelcoming gestures. I won’t try to initiate any small talk, but neither would I ignore them when they attempt to engage me in a conversation.

I am just more comfortable not having to socialize, and therefore I just won’t go out of my way to initiate it. And I think people sense my awkwardness and discomfort at having to engage in a small talk and they appropriately leave me alone after some time. If I see my teachers/lecturers/specialists outside the school/university/clinics, you bet I am going to turn the other way (the longer route, even) to avoid having to talk to them (unless they have spotted me and then I have no choice but to greet them, so that they won’t think I am plain weird). It’s okay to see my teachers in the class, but outside the class, I would NEVER seek them out unnecessarily; not even to ask them about any particular knotty points in the lesson. I would just work things out on my own or ask my classmates. I had never been the sort who would go to teachers like my friends and say “Mai saya tolong angkat buku dan beg cikgu ke bilk guru”. Not in a million years…unless they DO need me to do it, then I will do it.

I have never been the sort who would socialise with MOs or specialists outside the wards when I was a HO. Even seeing them at the parking lot from afar made me stop dead on my tracks (Alamak! Why do we have to be here at the same time??) and caused my eyes to dart around, searching for the nearest escape route where they wouldn’t spot me and I wouldn’t have to walk into the hospital with them, having to engage in a boring conversation about some mundane matters I didn’t really give a damn about.

I CAN socialize, but ONLY after I have expected having to do it. I can even make it look effortless and fun if I have to. It is easy and even enjoyable if I had already prepared myself mentally into socializing. Like during kenduri….I expect to see those I invited and I expect to have to talk to them. So that’s okay. Or while holidaying in a tour group… I expect to have to socialise part of the time I am in that group.

But if you caught me unaware, in a situation when I expect the pleasure of my own thoughts and NOT to have to bother talking, I’d rather avoid you; no offense. I PREFER my own company almost all the time, EXCEPT perhaps during raya, and only with relatives.

All these while, I thought I was shy and the only reason people always laugh and said “hang tok sah dok perasan sangat la hang ni pemalu. You are not exactly perempuan Melayu terakhir, Afiza” is because I have good acting talent and able to hide my discomfort so well.

But actually they were right. I really was NOT shy. Shy indicates a self-consciousness that I really don’t possess. Bring me a topic I really care about, you would see me talking loud and clear, fast and furious..and I don’t care what people think about me for saying what I think. Try to bully me into agreeing with your distorted and unjust opinion, you would see me bullying you back with my loud counter-arguments insisting that my way of looking at things is more accurate. Sometimes I can be downright rude – having that insight about my rudeness – but unable and unwilling to stop myself from being so.

So, that’s hardly a shy person,is it?

I have no problems talking to an audience. I know how to make a clear point and make sure people understand what I am trying to deliver. I know just where to emphasize which word in which sentence to better capture an audience’s attention to the point I am trying to highlight. That came almost instinctively without me having to think about it. I can present topics that I have prepared with no problems. On the other hand, I have seen some extroverts who may not freeze in front of an audience but they do some really boring presentation causing the audience to fall blissfully into sleep…they may enjoy interaction with their colleagues but when they ACTUALLY do a power-point presentation, they just don’t capture the audience’s attention to what they are trying to say. Because I used to watch my sister train as a debater even when I was only 9 years old and was asked to give my input to her, I would look at their presentation critically and make internal suggestion in my brain: louden your voice, put more emphasis in certain words, have some prosody in your way of talking, your points are all jumbled up and the audience cannot follow you. Speak with conviction, do you actually believe in what you say? What are you trying to say? Ok, I am going to sleep.
With the way I behave, you know I really don’t have social anxiety. I may not like making small talk, but I don’t fear it. A lot of my friends have said that when they first knew me, I didn’t smile at them and walked super fast and avoided eye-contact, making them wary of approaching me. (because if I smile and walk slowly lingering around, then some random strangers will think it is a sign that I am welcoming some interaction and small talk which I really don’t! So, my not smiling is a self-preservation against overfamiliarity of random people). They then said, “Bila dah kenal, baru tahu Afiza friendly sebenarnya.” (Of course I am friendly  because I already know you to be comfortable enough with you.)

I am not shy, I am not rude (usually), I am not asocial, I am not snobbish/’sombong’. (these are things I have been accused of)

What I AM, is an introvert.

And the book by Susan Cain taught me that being an introvert is not necessarily about being shy. That being shy and being an introvert is not mutually inclusive.You can have a shy extrovert and an outspoken introvert.

The difference between an introvert and an extrovert, says Cain, is in how they receive their stimulation. An introvert is mainly focused on their own internal world. They are easily absorbed in a good book, a good discussion, a breathtaking scenery, a great mystery. They don’t need to have people around them to be stimulated and entertained. In fact, having people around them is the EXACT opposite to positive stimulation that they crave, unless these people can inspire some sort of deep conversation they can be interested in. An introvert feels lonely surrounded by people they are acquainted with but don’t care about; they feel more alive and energetic being by themselves doing things that they like; in my case, I would be reading, blogging, writing, travelling…by myself, preferably. Or perhaps with one or two people I am really close to and care about. Not more than that. An introvert is easily bored by people (whose conversation they find superficial) and would try to avoid having these people around, stealing their energy. An introvert also love, love, love their outward routine (because inwardly, they ALREADY receive stimulations from many different internal conversation they have with themselves about various topics and issues.)

On the other hand, an extrovert receives their stimulation by their interaction with others. They love people. They can be charming and good company, and often the life of the party. They find establishing new contact with people is easy and fun. They can start conversation with strangers without the slightest hesitation. Extroverts love their external environment, and the more novel it is, the better stimulation they receive. An unchanging environment will be the death of them.

To tell you the truth, most of my close friends are extroverts (so I appear extrovert by association) But my extrovert friends are one of the special ones; my extroverts friends are the deep one. They are not the one who talk and yack yack yack continuously without thinking! But they are the ones who talk and ask intelligent questions and cause ideas to flow and bounce. I am not going to tolerate extroverts who talk nonsense, making me feel bored and agitated to get away from them. I like genuine and originality in my extrovert friends. When my extrovert friends do talk about things, they cause me to think and enrich my internal world, which is the world I cannot wait to go back home to and do more thinking in. When I go out together with my extrovert friends, we complement each other. I will go to kenduri with her because I know that I can rely on her to fill up the silence when we meet our past acquaintances. I will be the one smiling indulgently as she goes on talking with our mutual acquaintance, all the while thinking “Thank God! I came here with you!”

I also DO have introvert friends. When I go out to kenduri with them, I have no choice but to step up to the role of being the more talkative one, because I sense that my friend is even more uncomfortable than I am. I tell myself “this is my turn to do my introvert friend a service that other extrovert friends have done for me in the past. The only difference is they actually enjoy it and I don’t”.

I am often amazed that people are surprised when I said “I don’t like crowds. I am an introvert.” Perhaps, as Susan Cain had pointed out, I have been able to hide my introversion so well out of the necessity to survive in a world catered for extroversion. If you are an introvert and you act shy, soft and timid, you will get easily bullied. If you cannot say what you mean with conviction, people simply won’t listen. And being the second child of five, neither the charismatic first born nor the last pampered child, I have learned to be assertive enough to get my way when the issue is important. When they don’t want to follow my way, I will go ahead doing what I want. Just because they don’t want to follow what I say does not mean I cannot go ahead and do it on my own.

So really, I am not much of a team player. I have NO DESIRE to be anyone’s leader. But I am also not a good follower to leaders that I disagree with. But to leaders that I look up to, I will be the staunchest supporter…but ONLY if they are courteous enough to at least make a show of considering what I said and accommodate my tendencies to have my own thought and my own way of looking at things. I neeeeed my own space…a lot of it.

So, the misconception of introverts as a boring ‘stick-in-the-mud’ person and extroverts as a shallow attention-seeking primadonna is NOT true. Their main difference is in how they receive their energy and stimulation from. I have met pretty deep, intellectual extroverts who enjoy meeting many people and at the same time love deep conversation of philosophical matters. I have met introverts who can be the life of a party when they have to and love the spotlight of performing on-stage but deep inside cannot wait to go home to just re-charge their energy (only to return on-stage again the next day). So, it’s not that surprising to have many actors and performers claiming that they are introverts,

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. The type of person I love hanging out with is someone who can make me think, who have the confidence to defend an original thought, who can shred bad ideas to pieces but at the same time can acknowledge good ideas and their merits, a rational non-conformist who don’t always try to please the (unjust) authority, someone principled and courageous, someone I can look up to, someone I can talk to without feeling like I am faking an enjoyment that I don’t actually feel.

And BOTH introverts and extroverts may have the characteristics above. Whenever I move to another school, another department, another workplace, those characteristics are the ones I will try searching for in the new people I meet. I prefer a stranger who comes up to me and straightaway said “What do you think about hudud?” (totally mind stimulating!) rather than an acquaintance I already knew who greets me saying “Hi Afiza, nice tudung. You look good.” Pfft! (Beyond saying ‘thank you’, how else the conversation is supposed to continue? So tepid and boring kan? But I have learned to be nice and to remember to return the compliment about their own appearance. I mean, I am not being insincere in returning the compliment….they sure look good. Of course they do. It’s just that I won’t say it automatically as a conversation starter because I just don’t feel it’s that important to say it to them. I am learning though, from the extroverts I am friends with.)

Really with introverts, don’t worry about mukadimah bagai. Just get to the heart of the matter and spare us the pleasantries. We prefer it that way, trust me. In fact, the less small talk you do, the better we like you. In fact, when you are more abrupt and more straighforward, you put us at ease by freeing us from the obligation of being nice and stilted. You make us be ourselves, so that after we have gone into deep conversation with you, we become so impressed with you to the point that we actually WANT to know you. We will then start asking you questions about you, “How are you? Where are you from? Do you enjoy Alor Star?” But THIS time, we are not making any small talk but we ask these because we really want to know. When we we really want to know, then those questions are NO LONGER small talks. Get it?

I am not saying that introverts are the only ones with depths. But Introverts go deep before they are comfortable to go superficial, Extroverts go superficial before they are comfortable going deep. In the end of the day, both will have depth…but the order of doing things are reversed between extroverts and introverts.

In case I have not made it clear, I LOVE this book. It provided so much insight into why I consider myself an introvert but at the same time I do not feel I am shy. It tells me that people sometimes confuse a shy extrovert as an introvert. In my case, I am an outspoken introvert being confused with being an extrovert. Quiet by Susan Cain is one of the few non-fiction I actually enjoy reading. I highly recommend it.

For me, it’s 5 stars!

On being introvert

I don’t really think of myself as an introvert. But all these years I have always felt a tad uncomfortable being in a crowd, especially if the members of which, I am not fully acquainted with.

Even my friends would laugh off the idea that I am an introvert.

“Introvert apa…cakap tak berhenti. Garang macam dengan apa. Setiap kali cakap, semua dia nak menang” Of course it was said in the most affectionate manner they could muster. Hahah.

I am a social butterfly among really good friends only. I have ideas, thoughts, opinions that I want to share with them; things I need them to know about, because those are interesting things to be enjoyed and discussed together.

So of course these people would scoff at the idea of me being socially awkward. And WITH THEM, even I can be made to think that I am charming and witty and can talk non-stop; Ad nauseum. Ad infinitum.

***

But when I am dragged to a social function or an event involving mingling and making small talk, I become taciturn. Quiet. Sometimes downright rude. Temperamental. Irritable.

When I was a child, I was the one who would go “Mak, bila nak balik ni?” pestering my mother and interrupting her lively conversations.

I find people talking about the weather downright irritating.

When they DO talk about the weather,my brain YAWNS before it completely SHUTS DOWN.

Was it the mundane topic? Or was it the boring personality? Or a combination of both?

Back then, I didn’t know.

As I grew up (and out) I became convinced that  it’s not (always) the topic that determines how interesting a conversation will get. A topic about the weather, when discussed with the right person in the right manner can become just as absorbing as the latest Khaled Hosseini book.

If I were to comment about the weather, instead of just saying “hujan tak henti-henti kan sekarang ni,”  and leave it at that, I will say “Best kan hujan? Ingat tak waktu kita kecik dulu waktu rumah kita banjir….” And I will go on about the memory that we BOTH had as a child… a similar memory, a common knowledge…

That’s why talking with friends – with whom you have common backgrounds and common memories – never becomes a dreaded small talk even when the topic is small.

But talking with complete strangers is a torture I like to avoid as much as possible.  Unless if – when talking about the weather – he/she can make it interesting by saying  “What do you think the government should do to prevent the flash flood from happening again in the future?”

THEN, there are topics to discuss (even though we are strangers). THEN, there are ideas to flow (even when we don’t share similar memories). THEN, they become interesting (even when the topic is small).  It gets interesting if ideas flow back and forth; if there are opinions to agree and disagree with; if there are things to ponder and dismiss.

So even a big talk (as opposed to small talk) requires the right person to communicate with, for it to be interesting. Someone with whom you have similar wavelength;  someone who will respond to all your great ideas of “how to prevent the next flash flood” with another intelligent idea of his own. Someone who has the same enthusiasm as you do about things that you are interested about.

So, my childhood puzzle has now been answered. It wasn’t just about the topic. It wasn’t just about the personality. It was the combination of both.

***

“You were the one who wrote that fiery blog upon finishing your first posting…”

I couldn’t be certain whether it was a question or a statement that the paediatrician was trying to make. But what I COULD be certain of was she sounded incredulous.

Okay, I get it. I don’t look like a writer. Perhaps, I don’t look nerdy or bookish enough. 😛 Hahah.

But the reason she was so disbelieving had nothing to do with how I look because she then said “But you are so quiet. Whereas in the blog, you are so outspoken.”

For the record, I write something that I feel strongly about. Just as I hate small talk, I also hate writing boring daily stuff of the Korean dramas variety or the Hollywood stars gossips. Simply not my cup of tea. Among the list of things I feel strongly about is justice and oppression.  Enough said about the reason for what I wrote.

“I can be outspoken in person too. Just have to give me enough reason to be.”

“Did you write about me?” She was cheeky enough to ask.

I burst out laughing.

“No.” I paused. “Not yet.”  (I couldn’t help it. That kind of answer was too delicious to pass up)

“Make sure you let me see first before you publish what you write about me in your blog. If I say okay, then you can publish.” She was all tongue-in-cheek.

I simply had to laugh.

Now, that’s the kind of small talk I enjoy.

***

 

Below is the list of myths regarding being an introvert. Some of you may be an introvert but never really realize it. Some of you are polished enough to disguise your discomfort when small talk is required (I can do this sometimes, myself. Disguise my discomfort. But it was not enjoyable).

The list below is courtesy of another fellow introvert known as Carl King, from his blog H.E.R.E.  I would say that most of what he said are spot on.

Enjoy!

 

Myth #1  Introverts don’t like to talk

This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

(spot on! If I talk about books, or an inspiring film that I have watched, or about a political agenda or about religious misconception, or about domestic violence and the rights of women in Islam….you won’t have a chance to cut me off. Be warned.)

 

Myth #2 Introverts are shy

Shyness has nothing to do with being an introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

(Very true! I am not afraid of people at all. I just don’t like to deal with strangers unnecessarily. About being polite…I have been labeled socially awkward and rude many times as a child. And over the years I learn to make small talk just enough to make it acceptable. But know that if that’s all you inspire in me – small talk – in the long run, I will get bored of you and will avoid you at all cost. Sometimes your being rude –within context- can appear interesting to me if I was the one being overbearing first; it will make me think that you have some substance and character, some courage and principles. But don’t go overboard. No one like an uncouth person with poor insight.)

 

Myth #3  Introverts are rude

Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be REAL and HONEST. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings. So introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting

(Ditto about being real and honest.  I DO feel some pressure about fitting in but NOT a lot. If I don’t fit in, I just walk off and do my own thing. There’s something a little begging-like about trying to fit in that my pride cannot tolerate. I much prefer to take things into perspective… fit in just enough to survive but not trying too hard until they think I can be bullied for it. No way! No how!)

 

Myth# 4  Introverts don’t like people

On the contrary, introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

(I have nothing to add to this.  I agree 100% of what was said.)

 

Myth#5  Introverts don’t like to go out in public

Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be  there for long to “get it” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for introverts.

(In my case, I can easily recharge with a nice cup of mocha by my bedside and a good novel in hand. And I am full. And life is sweet.  I am pretty low maintenance. Doesn’t take much to make me happy.)

 

Myth#6  Introverts always want to be alone

Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

( Whenever I discover something surprising, astounding or something pleasant – mostly a good book, a nice article – I cannot wait to discuss them with someone. I will post it on FB. Or I will search the internet for a book review to see what others out there think about the same book that I’d just read. When I go out, I prefer to go out with 2-3 people at the most. Too much people make conversation go haywire and all over the place. Except when I need more people as a buffer to an intense situation – like meeting someone new for the first time during a family match-make. Ugh! In that kind of situation…small talk is in abundant. Hate it!)

 

Myth #7  Introverts are weird

Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is populour or trendy.

(I don’t think I am rebellious. I am not even anti-authority. I am not even anti-government, you see? Hahah. There you go…how can anyone reasonably call me rebellious then? I NEVER slammed the door on my parents the way kids are doing on TV. I never took drugs or deliberately misbehave at school just to get back at my parents or at the authorities. If I was called rebellious, it was always because I disagreed with what others thought I should do at that time and I verbally argued with them about it. My only fault was refusing to be silent when I don’t like what I see or what I hear, even when those things sometimes do not even happen to me. How many arguments with my parents have I entered for the sake of my sisters rather than for myself when we were growing up? Numerous! It was like an urge I cannot ignore. It was like an itch I cannot stop scratching. Then my parents would conclude  “hang laa anak aku yang paling lain sekali dari yang lain.” Hahah. Others simply consign me as a victim of the famous middle child syndrome. I disagree with BOTH their conclusions, but then you already expect my disagreement, don’t you?  )

 

Myth#8  Introverts are aloof nerds

Introverts are people who primarily look inward, playing close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them. It’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

(ditto to every word. It explains greatly why some people can be alone without being lonely. You would be surprised that the introverts – the quiet lone ranger that you deign to feel pity for – are actually more content about their lives than the party animals out there. It explains a great deal why some Hollywood stars who are always surrounded by people, fame, success and money end up committing suicide when they are alone. They simply don’t know how to live when they are stripped off the trappings of society. Some of them compulsively need companion – or otherwise drugs – to ward off the external loneliness. Alhamdulillah, I am simply not capable of being lonely even when I am alone. There are simply many things to do, books to read, things to ponder, thoughts to write. How do people get lonely?)

 

Myth # 9  Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun

Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitters called dopamine. Introverts and extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Look it up.

(Ditto. And read my elaboration on Myth #8. Funny enough, we are always bored by interacting with others we find not stimulating or requires too much small talk – not relaxing and not at all fun. We are never bored by being on our own – that’s relaxation and that’s fun.)

 

Myth # 10  Introverts can fix themselves and become extroverts

A world without introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an extroverts can learn in order to interact with introverts.

(I won’t say that introverts can ‘fix’ themselves to become extroverts. But I guess, we could try to be more outgoing. After all, practice makes perfect. I know I am not good at small talk…but I can’t avoid it forever. There’re Raya and open houses, There’re kenduri invitations in abundance during school holidays,  and once I get married insya Allah, there will be a new host of new relatives I have to get acquainted with. I shudder  and shiver just thinking about the amount of socializing I have to do. So yes, over time we learn to make ourselves less tensed and less quiet, more easygoing. We pray that sooner or later, as the relationship strengthen into a genuine friendship, conversation with them will stop becoming another small talk we have to endure.)

***

This post is dedicated to all introverts out there. Stay genuine and true to yourself. There are enough extroverts out there. No one expects you to be like them. If you don’t feel like talking, just don’t. Perhaps everybody is comfortable that way. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than blurting out something intense when others around you are aiming for a light conversation and easy laughter. So if we keep our mouths shut, everybody will be at ease.

Besides, we do know when and where we can let go in full blast all our intense inner thoughts, right? We still have the blog, after all.

😉

 

Introvert