So all this building community talk has gotten me thinking about how we build community. When most of us think of community building we think big. Neighborhood barbecues, church picnics, conventions of like-minded individuals. Unfortunately, those type of large get-togethers can be wildly impersonal and often put introverts on edge. Many won’t even bother to attend. They are only one way to build community.
I’ve often been told that certain people won’t participate in various get-togethers and it got me thinking (and realizing) I’m often “certain people.” And what do I look for in community building as an introvert.
Community building can (and often does) begin with one-on-one connection. Coffee with one neighbor. Having the family across the street to dinner. Lunch with a co-worker.
Introverts find all interaction in large groups physically and mentally exhausting. And sometimes, even with small groups this can occur. Contrary to popular belief, introverts actually do want friends and interaction, but on a much smaller scale than extroverts are typically used to. It is easy to dismiss an introvert as being snobby or stand-offish when he or she doesn’t attend any of your parties but often it is crippling anxiety that prevents them from going not some notion of being better than you and your friends.
So, how does introvert friendship work? Well, it starts typically one-on-one like most friendships do. But your expectations for a big night with all your friends might not be an introverts cup of tea, so they may turn you down on social dates. Also, if you make plans with an introvert, it is courteous to not invite others unless you let them know in advance. I was once asked by a friend to go to dinner with her. I interpreted this to mean a nice dinner just us, a time to catch up and relax. Instead, I arrived to find she had invited 10 other friends. I didn’t know any of them and we had little in common aside from our mutual friend. They were all co-workers and all the conversation geared that way leaving me largely out. I couldn’t find any way in for most of the night and left feeling upset and ignored. I know that wasn’t my friend’s intent, but it’s what happened. If you want to get together with an introvert friend AND another friend. Try to limit the number of people you invite (obviously this doesn’t apply for things like birthday parties, weddings etc but more intimate less party atomospheres). And be courteous and let your friend know, “hey, would it be okay if my other friend x, comes along.” And if you are all the people have in common and you are the one who invited everyone, you’ve become the de-facto host who needs to make sure everyone is included. That means introducing everyone individually to each other and trying to think of something they have in common in the introductions. Example, “Kristen, please meet my friend, Angela, she’s from New Jersey but grew up in NC too.” It will give your introvert a common ground with the new person and make them feel more intimate in the situation.
Also (and this is kind of bad manners anyway), if an introvert friend is the host, say for dinner at her house, it is not okay to just show up with extra people. And yes, this has happened to me too. If you suddenly have family drop in on you or friends your options are, 1. Explain the situation to your unexpected guests and let them know you have plans and they may need to amuse themselves for a couple of hours 2. Call your friend to cancel/reschedule 3. (and this should be a last resort) call and explain to your friend that, hey, your parents just dropped by, would it be okay for them to join you two or maybe abbreviate your visit. Again, this is really not an introvert thing so much as being a considerate guest thing in general. If this sort of thing happens to you often, you probably shouldn’t be surprised if your introvert friend or any friend, really, stops inviting you to do stuff or doesn’t want to commit to plans with you.
If you invite an introvert friend to a place where you know a lot of people but they won’t, look out for them like you would if it were your own event. A co-worker’s Mary Kay party, invite your friend to ride with you and introduce her around. Jeff brought me to his high school reunion pre-party after we were only dating a short time. I knew only a couple of people there and we walked into a party of over 100 people and he promptly disappeared. I knew no one and was younger than everyone by several years. Thankfully the host introduced himself and made himself available to me for whatever I needed and brought me over to a group where I did know a couple of people and introduced me around. A few minutes later, Jeff showed up and I was ready to kill him but considerably less so since the people the host introduced me to were very kind. It could have quickly gone the other way.
Community can be built to great levels even with introvert participation but you have to be ready that it might be a little trickier and much less grandiose in the starting out phases. When all else fails, ask the person what would make them most comfortable. Sometimes it’s an easy fix that way to get them plugged in. We all want and crave community and friendship, we just don’t all have the same ability to attain it.