My one trick for groups that don’t appreciate you

Reading the various writer and con-goer blog posts about how to not be a creeper (and in particular, John Scalzi’s post An Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping), reminded me of the one trick that I learned for dealing with groups that don’t appreciate you.

As a youth, I had limited social skills. One way this manifested itself was that I’d try to push my comments into groups that didn’t appreciate them. One key symptom of the problem was that, if someone else started speaking at the same time as me, they’d just go on talking—and everyone would listen to the other guy instead of me.

From that, I learned my one trick for dealing with that situation: shut up. In addition (and this is key), if someone later turns to you and asks what you were going to say, don’t tell them. Just say, “It wasn’t important,” or “I forget,” or something similar—and then stick to it. No matter how appropriate your comment, no matter how interested people would be to hear it, no matter how much you’d like to say it—shut up.

The point here is to implicitly create a situation where the people in a group only get one shot at hearing what you’re going to say. They either listen to you when you’re speaking, or they never hear it. (Also key is never to admit that this is what you’re doing. It’s only going to work if you do it implicitly. If you do it explicitly—such as by saying, “I’m not going to tell you,” or “Next time you’ll know to listen,” you’re just being a jerk.)

In practice, this is only really useful in a group that is just beginning to under-appreciate you. If they know they’re going to hear whatever you’ve got to say the next time there’s a lull in the conversation, they will go on under-appreciating you. In a group where you’re one of the alpha participants—which you’ll know, because everyone will shut up when you start to talk—there’s no need to do this. In a group where you’ve already been marginalized, no one will notice or care about what you do.

If you have already been marginalized within a group, an extension of the same trick applies: avoid the group completely. In my experience, there’s no way to unmarginalize yourself from within the group. What sometimes works is to absent yourself from the group, and then do something so cool and interesting that members of the group seek you out. (And you have to accept the fact that they usually won’t. Usually they’ll just say to one another, “Huh. Who’d have thought that guy would ever do something cool and interesting?”)

What prompted me to think of it is that it’s roughly the same advice that Scalzi gave for not creeping: Unless someone makes it clear that they want to hang with you—such as by paying attention when you talk, and then engaging with what you’ve said—leave them alone. If you combine that with doing cool, interesting stuff, there’s a pretty good chance that people will seek you out.

It’s not necessarily the case that sticking around when people aren’t giving you their attention makes you a creeper, but that’s not really important. It’s a lot more fun to hang out with people who appreciate what you bring to the group, so why waste your time with people who don’t?

(Note: None of this has anything to do with any groups I’m in now or have been in recently. This was stuff I learned through hard experience when I was in high school. If I’ve absented myself from a group with you (and you weren’t in high school with me) you can be sure it was because I was too busy and not because I felt under-appreciated.)