Finding your perfect social space

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Every Saturday morning I sit waiting for my son in the large, busy open-plan seating area of a music centre. It’s noisy and very public, full of other parents chatting, kids coming and going and different sounds of music drifting in from the classrooms. As an introvert, it’s the sort of place that I would expect to find really draining. But instead, I find it strangely relaxing and actually look forward to it as a time when I can think and write – in fact, many of my blog posts are conceived there.

I got to thinking, how could I find this chaotic environment so conducive to creative thinking, compared to, say, working in an open plan office, which I find exhausting and unproductive? On the face of it, both spaces are very similar, so why do they produce such a different effect?

I was reminded of a post by Susan Cain saying she does her best writing in a café rather than home alone. This suggests that, for many introverts, the presence of other people can often be comforting and even inspiring – we are social animals after all – and there’s something curiously soothing about the background hum of human interaction.

However, it seems there’s a very fine dividing line between what sort of social environment works with our introvert needs and what works against them. For me, this was borne out one Saturday morning when we had to move into a small classroom instead and it was nowhere near as relaxing – suddenly people’s conversations were intruding on my consciousness in a way they didn’t before, and the noise the kids were making became really distracting.

So when we want or need to be in public, surrounded by people, what are the ingredients that make it a nurturing experience rather than a bruising assault on our senses and energy levels? This is my attempt to capture them:

The Space

The size of the space is important – large and lofty allows you some personal space and lets the sounds of other people blur into a background white noise; small and low-ceilinged is too intimate and the presence of others becomes invasive.

The People

It works best if it’s a place where you’re not likely to know anyone. That way there’s no expectation from anybody that you will communicate with them, other than the polite necessities. It also enables you to sit quietly as an observer, watching and thinking if you wish rather than feeling pressured to be doing or engaging.

The Timing

As with anything social for an introvert, it can easily become ‘too much of a good thing’, so timing it right is crucial. A few hours in an appropriate public place is probably enough – a whole day would definitely overcook it, and you!

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