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Some Social Factors People Can Differ On

This article will discuss a variety of traits and preferences people can vary on when it comes to socializing. One thing I want to emphasize is that I think people and their personalities are complicated and it is way too simplistic to say something like people are either one of two types, and leave it at that. We differ on many factors, and all have unique profiles because of it. Sure, certain traits tend to occur in clusters, but not always.

Where someone falls on a particular factor isn't static either. Everyone has their core tendencies, but how someone acts may vary depending on their mood that day, what else is going on in their lives, the context they're in, the people they're with, and so on. Another way to put this is to think about how for many people, their family, co-workers, friends, and partners would all have a somewhat different idea of what that they're 'really like'.

Thinking of people as complex and dynamically varying on several traits makes them harder to talk about. You can't just apply a single label to sum them up. It rubs against our innate tendency to want to put everyone in neat little boxes. On the other hand, this viewpoint can be freeing in the sense that people can see their various traits as something they can work on individually. There's less of the message of, "You are either X or Y. You're X. You've always been X and always will be. You're X in every situation."

Note that the one dimension I won't talk about is Introversion vs. Extroversion, for the reasons I explain in this article. Basically, no one really agrees on the definition for these concepts. Also, many uses of the term include too many sub-concepts at once. However, the more specific dimensions below do cover concepts that many definitions of introversion and extroversion include.

Here are the social dimensions. They're all on continuums. Nothing is either-or. Some of these you could break down into further sub-traits if you wanted to. Where do you think you fall on them?

Uncomfortable vs. Comfortable

People on the Uncomfortable end of the scale could be described as shy, inhibited, nervous, or socially anxious. They tend to worry what others think of them, expect the worst, see social situations as 'tests', and are hard on themselves.

People who are Comfortable are more relaxed and self-confident in social situations, have a generally good opinion of their ability to get along with others, and are at peace with their mix of strengths and weaknesses. They tend to be accepting of their mistakes.

Like I was saying, this one can fluctuate a lot based on the circumstances. Someone may be quite comfortable with their old friends, but fairly uncomfortable around someone they've just met, certain types of people, or in particular situations. Our comfort level can go up or down depending on our mood too.

Negative Social Self-Image vs. Positive Social Self-Image

This one is pretty related to comfort level. Someone with a poor social self-image sees their self in social situations as being boring, unlikable, awkward, and having little to offer other people. A person with a good self-image may see themselves as interesting, fun, likable, and as someone worth having around.

The reason I wrote about the comfort level and self-image traits separately is that you will meet people where they're high on one and lower on the other. Like someone may see themselves as a good person with a lot to offer, but still feel shy and inhibited around others. On occasion you'll also run across people who are comfortable being social, but have deeper beliefs that they're actually lame and boring.

Less Social Need vs. More Social Need

This describes how much people feel they want to be around others. Someone with less need will prefer to spend a lot of time alone, and will be perfectly content and non-lonely while doing so. They may only need to see their friends once a week, or might not even need friends at all. They may feel fairly indifferent towards the idea of getting out there with people.

Those higher in social need are more internally driven to seek company. They may hang out with their friends several times a week and often keep in touch with them through text messages and Facebook. In all but the most extreme cases these people tend to still enjoy some alone time, but just don't want as much of it.

Some people may also think of the social need thing as being about how they recharge their batteries. Some people feel they need to be alone to replenish themselves, while others are refreshed by socializing.

Socially Awkward vs. Socially Savvy

This dimension is about skill level. Someone who is socially skilled knows how to act around people in a way that's rewarding and enjoyable to others. Someone's with less practiced social skills will have more interactions that are awkward, unrewarding, or which leave people feeling bored or irritated.

Other traits can influence this dimension. Someone who is comfortable in social situations and who has a good opinion of themselves will usually do better in them. Someone who feels anxious and off-balance is more likely to behave in an awkward way.

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Hanging Back vs. Outgoing

This dimension is less about someone's internal attitude towards socializing and more about their behavior when they're around others. More outgoing types actively get out there to initiate social interactions. They tend to talk to strangers, chat to mild acquaintances when they could easily get away with not doing so, and try to meet new people more often.

People who hang back will keep to themselves more, wait for people to come to them, or hold off until they're more officially introduced to someone before talking to them.

This trait can be related to others ones. Someone may hang back because they're less motivated to be social, are less comfortable, or just less into the 'bounce around and talk to everyone' style of socializing.

Preferring Less People Vs. Preferring More People

This one describes someone's current tendencies and preferences for how they like to spend their time socially. It's what it sounds like. Some of us prefer smaller groups, or one-on-one interactions. Other people are drawn to bigger gatherings. Obviously no person is totally one or the other, but you can often see a general pattern.

Low Key Vs. Crazy and Out There

Crazy, out there people are drawn to social activities that are stimulating and nutty. Think of a bunch of people out at a bar who are joking around, drinking a lot, getting into stupid situations, and making lots of noise. They're not necessarily ignorant or mindless deep down, but when they're social they want to let loose and do stuff like this.

Low key types like social activities that are more quiet and subdued. Their idea of fun is something like meeting someone for coffee, or having some wine at home with a few friends. Again, this doesn't necessarily say anything about them as people either. Someone isn't automatically more intelligent and refined, or conservative and boring, because they like to stay in. It's just a social preference.

For this factor the idea of optimal stimulation levels comes into play. Some people just need more to get their 'fix'. A low key person will tend to find the kind of activities crazier people do as overwhelming and annoying. It's more than they can handle. A more out there person may have nothing against quietly talking and having coffee, but at the same time they may feel under-stimulated and have this impatient sense of "This isn't doing it for me. More needs to be happening!"

This can be a very shifting trait too. Someone who's been cooped up at work all week may want to do something really wild on a Saturday night. Someone who's typically always up for doing something loud and reckless may want to take it easy if they've been hitting it a little too hard recently.

This trait may partially be influenced by someone's inborn temperament. I've also found it can vary in people across their lives. Someone be more low key for several years, then get bored with that and start to gravitate to outings that are more raucous. Or conversely, someone may go nuts for a few years, then get tired of it and start to appreciate being more toned down.

For this trait, and the trait of 'Preferring being around more people vs. Preferring being around fewer people', I've noticed groups will naturally find seek each other and sort themselves. If you put 100 people together, say at school or at a job, the ones who want to hang out in big groups and party will all tend to find each other. The ones who want to chill out and watch a movie on Saturday night with two other friends will do the same.

Liking Fewer People vs. Liking Many People

People on the very end of the 'Liking Fewer People' side of the scale don't really like anyone at all. They're misanthropes, and probably fairly rare. They may partially be this way because they've had a lot of negative experiences of being misunderstood and rejected, which has put them off humanity.

Those who are still on that side of the continuum, but not at the extreme end, are just relatively picky about who they hang around, and may be indifferent to a lot of the people they come across. That's not necessarily a negative trait either, as long as the person isn't a jerk about it. Some of us are choosier than others about the company we keep.

Those on the other end of the scale tend to see the best in others and like everyone they meet. They may not want to be friends with all of them, but they have a positive attitude.