It’s a Fair Question
I am fully aware of how awkward I am in social situations. Everything from my body language to conversation topics to how I speak (or don’t) is very uncomfortable.
I will always arrive late, so I am not the first person there.
If I find a place to sit, I will hold up there for the whole night.
I become very aware of my hands when I’m required to stand and will cross my arms as a result.
I will not speak unless spoken to.
And will leave without saying a word when I decide I need a break from people. Though, in my defense, I do return to resume my previous position when ready.
I have been told that none of this is okay on multiple occasions. And while my friends understand my introversion, I’m deemed rude and weird to new people.
We live in an extroverted world where enjoying each other’s company and connecting should bring happiness and prosperity. Therefore, actively trying not to participate in social gatherings can appear subversive and rude.
Control Your Perception
Despite others’ opinions, I see myself as a very polite person.
The minimum exchange required to be polite is saying please and thank you. And I’m all over that.
I am a great listener and care about the stories that people share with me. However, I typically don’t listen to respond; I listen to be an ear and show understanding. Sometimes this is okay, but active listening often requires responding to demonstrate we are giving our full attention.
However, knowing when it’s acceptable to listen and when a response is expected is challenging.
I think that’s what many people don’t understand: it’s difficult to pick up on social cues different from our own.
I assume all introverts have seen and shared the meme that introverts are told to leave their comfort zone, but extroverts don’t make the zone comfortable.
Perhaps the real issue then is perspective.
Introverts and extroverts see interactions very differently.
For example, let’s consider an interaction between a self-isolating, quiet introvert and a well-meaning extrovert.
The extrovert may assume the introvert is very shy. So to be polite and help them feel comfortable, the extrovert will attempt to interact with the introvert. But to this, the introvert responds with annoyance.
They’re just being polite, so why is the introvert being rude?
Well, from the introvert’s perspective, the extrovert is rude. They were content, comfortable and vibing in their safe space. But now they need to dedicate their energy to this unwanted conversation.
Each party views the interaction differently because they have different perspectives and different needs.
Trying to Find a Middle Ground
It is possible to create a space that is comfortable for everyone.
But how do we do that?
One of my biggest pet peeves while driving are people who do not signal. And when I was in high school, another student told me that she doesn’t signal “because they should just know where I’m going.”
I feel like a lot of people use this attitude as if people “should just know” how to make spaces comfortable.
But a middle ground is only possible when we can communicate and respect each other’s boundaries.
I have found that sharing my boundaries has relieved a lot of stress in my life. Not all, but it has helped.
I feel more comfortable with other people, they are noticeably more comfortable with me, and I have also gained the freedom to terminate uncomfortable relationships (including with family or friends).
Some of my boundaries include no touching, needing breaks to isolate, and being a listener (not a talker). These are things I need to keep me comfortable and safe. And i need other people to understand them.
I share my boundaries through a quick conversation or simple statement.
If they accept the boundary, everything is copacetic.
On the other hand, if they break the boundary, the relationship is broken—not ended, but needing repair. Only once someone has repeatedly ignored my set boundaries will I remove myself. It’s never an easy decision, but it is necessary.
Thankfully, I have surrounded myself with people who have chosen to respect my boundaries and those who did not are gone.
Assert Your Boundaries
In order to create comfortable spaces, we must declare our boundaries. But how do we do that?
Decide how to communicate your boundaries.
Answer these questions when considering how to communicate your boundaries:
- What is your relationship with that person? Are they a family member, friend, or co-worker?
- What kind of relationship do you want with that person? How close will you want to become?
- What is the current setting? Is it a quiet place, appropriate for a deep discussion, or a public place with many people?
These are essential questions to answer when judging how to communicate.
Your communication style and how much information you share will be determined by your relationship. For example, I speak to my parents differently than I do my friends or co-workers. And I consider the person and location when deciding whether I want to reveal the reasons behind my boundaries.
State your boundaries.
Once you’ve decided how to communicate your boundaries, it’s time to consider what you will say.
Some tips to keep in mind:
First, always verbally state your boundaries, especially if someone unknowingly crosses them.
Our close family members or friends may recognize the non-verbal cues that signal when we are uncomfortable. But non-verbal communication leaves too much room for interpretation and misunderstanding.
We want to clearly identify the specific behaviours that will make us comfortable in social situations.
Second, control your tone.
We want to share to educate and not to shame. If a person feels shamed for breaking a boundary they were unaware of, they will feel disrespected and respond negatively.
There are not many genuinely evil people who actively want to distress others. More often than not, it’s a simple misunderstanding, and they will change their behaviour if you politely state your boundaries. So, again, share and don’t shame.
Third, know what you want to say.
You can be very broad and say that you are quiet and introverted. In my experience, that typically forgives your actions and behaviours to make others comfortable. However, it does not tell others how to make you comfortable.
Therefore it can be helpful to name the specific behaviours that disrupt your vibe.
Just to give you an example, I will politely decline when a person reaches for a handshake because it crosses my no-touch boundary. I will say, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. It’s very nice to meet you. But I prefer not to be touched.”
As polite as I try to be, there are still some people (especially the older generations) who treat it as a slight.
I cannot control how they respond and may need to field some questions. But the boundary has been set and I feel protected.
The idea of setting boundaries can seem daunting. I recommend practicing with your safe people first to find the best strategy for you.
Be picky about who you bare your thoughts to.
It is important to always state your boundaries but choose carefully before sharing your personal stories.
No one is ever required to explain why they have boundaries.
We set boundaries for a reason, and we shouldn’t need to give a tragic story for them to be respected.
If you choose to explain your boundaries, being very open and personal can bring you closer to people. However, it can also be considered oversharing in the wrong relationship or venue.
For example, you may see your co-workers more often than your family. However, they are not owed your deepest, darkest secrets. They are the people you are placed with, not those you choose.
And you may feel more comfortable telling the partner you’ve been dating for a few months why you shut down during arguments than you might have felt on the first date. Or you might never feel comfortable sharing your story, and that’s okay too.
My friends know more details than some family members regarding a few of my boundaries. And I have other boundaries I will likely never explain to anyone.
Yet, while many people do not know the history behind my boundaries, they still respect them.
Receiving the personal reasons why we form a boundary is not a right; it is an honour that they must earn.
It’s never too late.
It’s not always possible to adequately express your boundaries to new people.
Meeting for the first time already requires sharing a flood of information. We share our names, where we’re from, what we do, how we know our mutual friends and any other tidbit of data pulled from small talk.
I’m often too busy trying to remember names to think of mentioning my boundaries.
Thankfully, it’s never too late to share, explain or change your boundaries with a person.
A first impression doesn’t mean much. Impressions change as we get to know people.
Sometimes they change for the better, or sometimes the worse.
Sometimes we realize that people have misunderstood us. Sometimes we realize that we have misunderstood them.
Sometimes we decide that we want to become closer with someone. And sometimes we decide that someone is getting uncomfortably close to us.
It’s okay to change your boundary.
I remember changing my no-touching boundary with a friend. When we first met, I mentioned the boundary and he has always been cool with it. But during one of our get-togethers, I went in for a long hug. He asked me what had changed, and all I could say was that it felt right.
So never rush. Take all the time you need to decide the best course for expressing yourself and your boundaries.
Boundaries Change the Rules of Etiquette
In my mind, respect plays a prominent role in being polite.
And boundaries are an expression of respect.
They can remove misunderstandings, make spaces comfortable for everyone, and establish relationships.
But we cannot assume what will make a space comfortable for other people.
A person cannot walk into your house and move your furniture to suit their preferences.
Nor can they claim your boundaries are unnecessary, inappropriate, or rude.
And the same goes for the boundaries set by others.
Try to think from different perspectives about what other people may need from you and how you can have the appropriate conversations.
Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):
Do you have any examples for communicating boundaries? Please share them in the comments!