I’ve always enjoyed people I thought of as “considerate.” In fact, before I knew I was an introvert, I mentally divided my friends and acquaintances into “considerate” vs. “sort of pushy.” If I announced an occasion coming up or had some major life event happen, the “considerate” people were the ones who would ask, “How can I help?” When I had my first child, one such friend actually sneaked into my hospital room to leave me a gift while I was asleep.
The “pushy” ones were the ones who would declare, “I’ll be in charge of the..[whatever],” for an event, or in the case of the hospital stay, they’d arrive ready to be entertained, just when I’d be sleep-deprived, in pain, or otherwise NOT ready for visitors, and of course if there was a new baby involved that made them all the pushier.
I’ve made it a point to have a lot of “considerate” people around me, both introvert and extrovert, but there have been two situations where my trying to be considerate has backfired terribly. And now that I know about personality traits and different peoples’ different preferences for how things are done, it’s totally clear to me: We shouldn’t always treat people as we would want to be treated. We should treat them as they want to be treated. It sounds pretty obvious, but in practice it was harder to realize before I knew I was an introvert.
The first circumstance where I found that my being so considerate hurt me was when I first started working for an innovative, big-picture kind of guy. I’d email him questions and wait for his answers, or I’d email him to tell him why something was going to happen later than expected, and I thought I was doing a great job of keeping him informed. But then while I waited, I started noticing that other people were getting their answers from him! They were able to proceed with their work while I was waiting and being very ineffective.
I’d ask, “How did you get an answer from him? I emailed him two weeks ago!” Yep, I didn’t know the best way to deal with an extroverted boss. I’ve learned since then by watching the extroverts. They don’t groan when the phone rings, do they? They don’t dread someone sticking his head into their office to ask something. So now I go directly to the bosses or other extroverts because I understand that’s how they want to be approached.
The second circumstance is so much worse in many ways. I had a really sweet friend I saw mostly on the weekends when we’d have a quick cup of coffee while our kids were playing. We had a lot in common as far as our lifestyles and day-to-day issues, and we talked about a lot of personal stuff and had a great time doing so. Then gradually we stopped meeting because of schedule conflicts. One day one of my kids came home from school and told me that my friend’s oldest son had leukemia! I was horrified and full of sympathy, and as I read their CaringBridge site I could see that she and her husband were splitting their time between the children’s hospital here and at home taking care of their younger son. She updated the page often, so I knew she had a laptop at the hospital. And I knew from the experience of having one of my parents in the hospital that the last thing anyone needs when they rush home for a quick break is the phone ringing!
So – ever the considerate one, I composed a long email offering my support and telling her that I’d be happy to pick up their younger son and take him with us to dinner and a movie sometime while she and her husband tended to their older son. I thought that would give them a break and give the youngest guy some happy normalcy too. I never heard back from her, but a few years later after her son was in remission, I happened to see her on the sidewalk. I tried to stop and talk to her, but she was extremely cold to me. I started, “When Andrew was sick… I emailed you..I was going to take Michael…” and she interrupted me, “Our email box gets so full we don’t even get all our mail.” Oh, OK.. I’m sorry you never got it..I didn’t know. Once again she interrupted, “Anyway, the email is John’s (her husband) department!” Then we smiled our fake smiles and said nice to see you – and I’ve never seen or talked to her again. I learned then – if your friend is an extrovert, it’s better to be the annoying phone or doorbell ringing than it is for your friend to think you’re neglecting her.
None of this is to say that we have to be “fake extroverts,” of course! I intend to be a happy, normal introvert and people will just have to like me the way I am. But when there’s something important to communicate, I’m going to try to be very conscious of the audience and his/her preferences. That’s the only way I can be sure my message is received!
Photo credit: Annie Mole