This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.
Leading workshops on how to build lasting, trust-based relationships requires me to interact with new people all the time. In fact, I’m preparing to meet 54 strangers on Thursday. To be effective I have to strive to model all the interpersonal skills I espouse … always. So, you’ll appreciate the irony when I say I really hate meeting new people. And whether you’re like me or not, there’s a lesson I’ve learned about managing this conundrum that applies to us all.
I’m not completely anti-social. I’m just introverted. And a little shy—a holdover from childhood, I suppose, when during a certain phase of my life it was positively painful to talk to those I didn’t know or know well.
Over the years it’s gotten easier and I’ve learned how to push through it. I make it a habit, for example, to personally greet as many participants as possible during the moments before a workshop begins—to look them in the eye, repeat their name, say, “Nice to meet you” and mean it. It always feels better to have made the effort.
Then there are other times that I simply don’t feel like pushing through it. Like when I’m seated on an airplane, either on the way out of town and gearing up to lead a program or on the way home and decompressing from one I’ve just finished. I feel I should strike up a friendly conversation. The person sitting next to me could be my best client ever or someone for whom I could make a real difference in some unexpected way—or vice versa. But sometimes I just don’t want to talk. I’d prefer to retreat into the quiet solitude of my own little world. Sometimes I actually need to do that, in order to recharge.
Of course, when I venture out of my comfort zone or when someone strikes up a conversation with me and it ends up being absolutely delightful (which actually happens frequently), I question whether or not I’m really such a solitary creature. I suppose it’s a “both…and” situation like a lot of things in life—I am both connected and private, curious and distant, outward and inward, courageous and cowardly.
Some variation of this is very likely true for you. Dichotomies live within us all. Sometimes our natural preferences help us build trust, and sometimes they are a detriment.
Here’s the conclusion I’ve drawn so far in this lifetime about how to manage this effectively: what matters is knowing ourselves well so that we can both play to our strengths and routinely take personal risks. Because the magic happens when we are simultaneously being our best selves and testing our edges.
A version of this Weekly Tip was originally posted on Forbes.com.
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