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. I want to emphasize people and their personalities are complicated, and it's way too simplistic to say we all reduce down one of two types, like Outgoing or Reserved. We differ in dozens of areas, and all have unique profiles because of it. Sure, if you have certain traits you're likelier to also have others, but not always.

Where someone falls on a particular factor isn't static either. Everyone has their core tendencies, but how someone acts can vary depending on their mood that day, what else is going on in their life, 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 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 those terms. Also, many definitions include too many sub-factors at once. However, the more specific dimensions below do cover traits that many definitions of introversion and extroversion include.

The traits below are 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?

Socially Uncomfortable vs. Socially Comfortable

People on the Uncomfortable end of the scale could be described as shy, inhibited, 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. They can experience unpleasant physical symptoms of nervousness.

People who are Comfortable are more relaxed and self-confident in social settings, 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 people they've just met, 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 themselves in conversations as being boring, unlikable, awkward, and having little to offer. A person with a good self-image may see themselves as interesting, fun, likable, and as worth having around.

The reason I wrote about the comfort level and self-image traits separately is that you will meet people who are high on one and lower on the other. Like they may see themselves as a good person with a lot to offer, but still feel shy and inhibited around others. You'll also run across people who are comfortable being social, but have a deeper conviction 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 toward 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 nearly every day, and keep up in between with lots of text messages and social media posts. 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 of us also think of the Social Need factor as being about how we recharge our batteries. Some people 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 with less-practiced social skills will have more interactions that are stilted, unrewarding, or which leave people feeling bored or irritated.

Other traits can influence this dimension. Someone who's comfortable around people and who has a good opinion of themselves will usually do better in their interactions. 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 toward socializing and more about their behavior when they're around others. More outgoing types actively get out there to initiate social interactions. They 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, wait for people to come to them, or hold off until they're 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 Fewer People Vs. Preferring More People

This describes someone's current tendencies and preferences for how they like to spend their time socially. Some of us prefer smaller groups, or one-on-one interactions. Other people are drawn to bigger gatherings. Obviously most people don't entirely prefer one or the other.

Low Key Vs. Wacky and Lively

Wacky, lively 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 silly antics, 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 drop their usual restraints.

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 wackier people do as overwhelming and annoying. A more out there person may have nothing against quietly talking and having coffee, but at the same time they may have this impatient sense of, "This isn't doing it for me. More needs to be happening!"

This can be a very fluid trait too. Someone who's been cooped up at work all week may want to do something really wild on the weekend. 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 dimension, and the one of Preferring Being Around More People vs. Preferring Being Around Fewer People, I've noticed groups will naturally sort themselves on it. If you put 100 people together, say at school or 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 absolute end of the Liking Fewer People side of the scale don't really like anyone at all. They're misanthropes, and fairly rare. They may partially be this way because they've had a lot of painful 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, as long as the'yre not 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 an accepting attitude.