It can be very difficult to truly know how we come across to others. It can be even more difficult if you grew up without many friends, who provide a “feedback loop” during our identity-forming teen years. Either way, there can be a yawning gap between how we think we’re coming across to others and how we actually appear.
For example, shy individuals tend to be quiet in new situations. Unfortunately, others often think that they are standoffish, aloof, or snobby. But if they allow themselves to get past their initial impression, shy individuals can come out of their shells and have long-lasting relationships.
Some aren’t so fortunate, and having few friends they wonder why this is happening. The rest of this article describe several kinds of “types” of off-putting qualities. I offer some tips to deal with these different types in order to maintain a friendship. Additionally, if you see yourself in any of these descriptions, I make some suggestions at the end of the article.
Negative Naysayers (NN) will tell you why it’s a bad idea to change jobs, go back to school, quit smoking, or continue to see the person you’re dating. You can be sure that once you tell the NN something you’re about to do, you’ll eventually find yourself filled with self-doubt.
To counter this, be sure to sandwich telling an NN the news both before and after you tell people who you know will be more supportive. Also, if you want NN’s to say something positive, try this experiment: For every negative comment they make, agree with then in principle. By the fourth time, they will say something positive.
When you try to have a discussion with an Over-talker (OT), it feels like a double-dutch jump rope game. In double-dutch, two ropes are going simultaneously in opposite directions. You have to time it exactly right to get in there and start jumping. Unfortunately, OT’s tend not to take hints and ignore body language (as in, I’m walking. Toward. The door).
To complicate matters, once you get a word in, some OT’s shift the subject to them and their lives. You can literally be talking about the weather, and OT’s will somehow find a way to make it about them. Over-talkers can be draining, and yet there isn’t much you can do to contain then – except interrupt. Interrupting is usually considered rude, but most OT’s are actually used to it, so try jumping in while the rope is still turning.
The Pretentious Pretenders (PP) believe they are better than others, and they tend to be arrogant. To make it easier to be with PP’s, remember that superiority is usually a cover up for feeling inferior. Also, try to switch the subject when they get around to telling you how great they are or how stupid everyone else is.
The Joking Clowns (JC’s) can twist even the most tragic stories into fodder for a laugh. Usually, JC’s are uncomfortable with certain (more intense) feelings. You may not be able to have a serious conversation with them. Therefore, consider limiting yourself to hanging out in shallow waters (i.e., light social situations). Or, preface what you’re about to say with something like, “There’s something serious I need to tell you. Please let’s not laugh about this.”
The Sarcastic Cynics (SC’s) are nearly always sarcastic. I bet you can never count on them to make some demeaning comment! It’s hard to be around an SC, unless they’re funny (see the JC above). To protect yourself, you may have to edit your words and try to avoid opportunities for sarcasm.
The Controller Directors (CD’s) want to do what they want when they want to at their convenience. CD’s are usually worse with their partners, but friends still have to worry about it a bit. Contact your CD to get together when you feel like going with the flow. And if there’s a time or two that you simply can’t abide, say something like, “I’m sorry but this is how it is.” And then – without justifying yourself any further – turn your phone off to stop texting or turn on your heels and leave the situation.
User Friendly (UF’s) call when they needs to move into a new apartment, need a ride to the airport, or are trying to solve their latest relationship problem. Unfortunately, UF’s don’t quite seem to have the time when you need them. The point is that you might have to gently back off of being the go-to person. You might have to be “busy” or the request might be coming at an “inconvenient time.” With enough patience (and enough No’s) the UF will find someone else for a ride to the airport. In the meantime, you can keep the part of the relationship you like. If they back completely out of the relationship, then you can rest assured that you were simply being used. You can try to confront a UF, but be gentle. It’s easy to lose this kind of friend, but then again a friend in need…
In general, if you decide to talk to a friend with an off-putting quality, first tell him/her how much you care for him/her and that you’re about to tell them something to make your relationship better. In reality, you’d be giving him/her the opportunity to get closer to you and others.
The same holds true for you: If you believe that I have described you in this article, consider finding ways to learn if it’s true that sometimes you put other indviduals off. One way is to ask a trusted friend or two that you’re concerned that you think you’re coming across a certain way. Be open to what they have to say. You may reel from the answers, but you will regain your balance when you realize that they accept you anyway, and you now have an opportunity for change.
Another way is therapy. One of the potential benefits of group therapy is that you can learn how you come across to other with others who are also learning about themselves and how they come across (in other words, it can be a “safe” place where you can let your guard down). If group isn’t for you, you can ask your therapist to give you an appraisal of how you’re coming across. You may come to some painful self-realizations, but once you do, you have the opportunity to improve the quality of your relationships.