Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Uncomfortable Conference Encounters

This week I’m writing about something that came as a result of my blog post about shyness. I have a friend who is outgoing, well spoken, interesting and always worth talking to. She read the post and said that what she doesn’t know how to handle is when she’s at a conference or party in conversation with someone, and that person is obviously scouting the room for “someone better” to see or be seen with.

It happens to all of use. You approach someone to be friendly, only to find that aren’t interested in conversing if you aren’t obviously someone who 1) can help their career, 2) is famous, or at least recognizable, or 3) is worth being seen with.

Even worse is when you get up the courage to talk to someone you admire, only to find that it pains them to have to be seen with someone not as important as they are. I’ve rarely encountered Mr. or Ms. Too Cool for the Masses Ninety percent of the well-known writers I’ve encountered are more than generous. With those few “stars” who can’t be bothered, there’s not much to be done except slink away and vow never to buy any of their books again.

I’m just as sensitive to this kind of bad manners as most people. Usually when it happens, I’m so humiliated that I pretend I see someone I know and say, “Excuse me, I see someone I need to talk to.” And I slink away and go talk to the wall. But if you really want to do something more, I’d say the way you handle it depends on how much you care—if you want to teach them a lesson or if you just want to extricate yourself and move on.

I’m not much for trying to teach a lesson because I think it’s a waste of time. But if I were feeling particularly snarky and annoyed, I probably would say something like, “I can see I’ve disturbed your search for someone. I’ll leave you to it.” At least it lets them know that their wandering eye isn’t lost on you.

But there’s another possibility. The person who is searching for “someone better” may actually be looking for someone. Or he may be tired, hungry, or grumpy about something that has nothing to do with you. Although there are polite ways to convey this, she may have reached the end of her ability to navigate the chaotic world of the conference.

The exceptionally entertaining, smart woman who talked to me about this said it makes her not like to go to conferences. That floored me. To think that someone as savvy as she is would allow herself to be turned away from what could be a valuable experience by someone who has no manners!

Bottom line the rude person is not worth one second of your attention, regardless of the reason for it. He or she may live in her own little hell of not being recognized enough. She may need something you can’t give her. Or, he may just be overwhelmed.

Bottom line: It’s not about you. Don’t let yourself be defined by people who don’t have good manners. Don’t let them waste your time for one moment. Have a stock phrase ready, like, “Nice chatting. Catch you later.” And walk away.

1 comment:

Grace Topping said...

Terry, I love this post and your imagined response. I've memorized it and will use it if the occasion comes up. I've even told my grown daughters about it. What better way to get your point across then to smile, be polite, and give them a zinger. I bet that person will be more polite to the next person they don't have time for.