When You’re Not a Natural at Meshing Well with People

There are days I sit at my desk at work, looking at my colleagues, my daily acquaintances, and wonder how many of them see me as the girl who sat alone during recess, never quite understanding how to fit in. I imagine it’s pretty obvious — I’m far from a natural at people skills — and struggle with this every single day.

It’s not an introvert vs. extrovert issue, though that plays a role. It’s not even about my social anxiety, per say, because I feel comfortable around people I work with – generally speaking – and still, I’m at a loss for how to keep up with the pace of normal socialization. Who knows what disorder I actually have — I only know that some things are overwhelmingly challenging to me that come natural to others.

For example – management. I received one hell of a very deserved critique session today for my handling of managing the summer interns. While a large part of the issue was my lack of time management skills (hello ADD), another huge portion was clearly my lack of people skills. One thing that my boss does so well is know how to reward his employees. This isn’t with monetary prizes usually, instead, it’s with recognition. Everyone at the company respects him. He works hard, he is willing to get his hands dirty, and he seems to know exactly when to step in and push for something and when to step out and let the team work their magic. He seems to have been born with the gift of knowing exactly what to say at exactly the right time to make everyone do exactly what they should.

Which no doubt frustrates him about me — I don’t seem to react to feedback the way a normal person would — though I carefully listen and try my best to improve. And by try my best, I mean my unmedicated best, because I really want to be able to do this on my own without adderall or an anti-depressant.

What hurts the most is knowing I’ve sunk down in the totem pole of respect. The only thing that motivates me – for better or worse – is having someone who I hold in high regard think of me in almost equally high regard. The moment I lose that respect, the moment I start to crumble. And I ALWAYS lose that respect due to my people skills. Words slip from my mouth when I ought to stay quiet. And then, when it’s the perfect time to say something, I freeze. So I revert to being the jokester, after all, I’ve figured out a way to get most people to at least find me amusing through self deprecation and letting myself and my ideas get pushed around like the wind. Because deep down I rarely think my ideas and contributions are any good. Because deep down I feel like a complete failure day in and day out, and no therapist or drug can get me out of that one.

Looking at my colleagues now, I see all the kids on the playground. The popular kids, the nerds, the jocks — all working together, all grown up. They all talk to me now. The nerds are either shy and say hi when I say hi to them, or they have some form of Aspergers and are glad to talk to me. The popular kids talk, but only to make small talk, and it always feels somehow politically oriented, even though there is likely no such motivation prompting the conversation. Am I still the weirdo? That’s my part in this story, or at least it was for the first 15 or so years of my life. (No wonder I was depressed.)

I know I don’t have to be the girl on the playground who everyone made fun of — I don’t have to let fear and insecurity rule my life. But it still does, and it is reflected in my many reviews with my boss where he is clearly disappointed. I leave them thinking I’ll do better next time — I’m going to prove that I can do better — and somehow my ability to remain consistent, even with the most positive intentions, just dwindles.

There are many, many things I love about my job, and I don’t want to lose it. I’ve learned how to hide my issues with people for longer and longer each new job I have, but once they’ve surfaced, can I ever change someone’s mind about me? I feel like I need to get a whole new wardrobe, focus on straight ironing my hair in the morning, dressing like a person who is put together, and then somehow acting the part, to show I’ve changed — but I have absolutely no idea how to maintain that for longer than a few days. I want to be different and I want to be perfect.

The reality is it’s best to be “normal” and allow for imperfection so things can get done. Or, maybe I’m just not that smart, not quick enough, and ought to find a career and industry that doesn’t put me up against some of the brightest minds in the world. But that, right there, is what drives me to begin with. That’s what actually makes me — happy. So how could I ever give this up? I just wish I could change.

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5 thoughts on “When You’re Not a Natural at Meshing Well with People”

  1. Hi Joy,

    Love your blog. Was a bit confused about your example of handling the summer interns. Did you not have enough time to make them feel appreciated or you didn't socialize with them enough? Just curious.

  2. Sofia — thanks for the comment, and for loving my blog. 🙂

    RE: the interns, there were a lot of fails along the way. It wasn't just due to the social skills, though that was a large part of it. The biggest problem was not being able to provide proper feedback to them, and to respond like a real "boss" to their work (ie I can't play bad cop, which would probably earn me more respect.) I couldn't tell if I gave them too much work or not enough. Ultimately, though, I wasn't confident enough to manage two interns who were around my own age and who were more book smart than I am. I felt bad also because this internship was important to them, and I wanted it to be awesome, but I was so buried in all my other projects that I didn't have the time to dedicate to them, or their projects, which required my feedback.

  3. Point One: When I am reading over your last few posts, they read EXACTLY like the inside of my own head when I am in a "funk" (happens for a week or two every month and a half or so.) I am going to a therapist now because I decided I didn't want to let this mess up my life when it hits me, but I also didn't want to take drugs.

    Point Two: You don't need to be bad cop EVER to get respect. I have had the luck to work with two bosses who showed that you NEVER need to criticize anyone to get them to respect you, OR to teach them what you want them to learn.

    If you haven't been able to work under a boss like this, try reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" – the title sounds lame, but there are a lot of examples about how to ONLY ever give positive feedback successfully.

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