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On Being Blown Off

Note: I had 50+ spam comments on LJ this morning, so I've gone ahead and turned off anonymous comments for the time being.

#

Maybe it was the number of people, but I’ve heard or read more stories about people feeling blown off at Worldcon than just about any other con I can remember.

You know how it is. You’re sitting there in a group, when along comes Big Name Author Robert J. J. Muttonchops. Bob to his friends. He says hi to the person on your left, grins and jokes with the person on your right, glances at your name badge, and then wanders off without saying a word to you.

Your friends may or may not even notice your newfound powers of selective invisibility, but you’re left wondering what the hell just happened.

It’s not something that happens to me very often these days. I know that sounds a little egotistical, but it’s also the reality of being a moderately successful author and blogger. Anyway, after several of these conversations at Worldcon, I started watching for the blow-off. And damn if I didn’t start seeing it happen.

And then I got to wondering if I had done the same thing to people.

It’s possible. There were a lot of people I wanted to say hi to, and for much of the weekend I was running around in high gear, barely stopping for breath. On top of that, my social skills and my ability to fake extroversion are inversely proportional to the number of people in the immediate group.

What I can say is that if I blew you off, I didn’t do so intentionally. There are only two people I would have deliberately brushed off or ignored at this con, and happily, I didn’t run into either one.

If I did do something to make you feel blown off or unimportant, I apologize. I’ve been there, and it sucks. Thirteen years later, I still remember the annoyed brush-off I received from one Big Name Author who clearly had more important things to do with his time.

I know there are people out there who check name badges to determine whether someone is worthy of their time. (Me, I check name badges because I suck at names.) I don’t get that. Partly because whether or not you’re famous in the SF/F community has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you’d be an interesting person to talk to. Heck, if you’re only there to figure out how to get ahead and what “important” people you can use to boost your career, I probably don’t want to talk to you anyway.

But even if you’re being That Guy, it’s a stupid strategy — the person you shun today could be next year’s hot new author, or could be running that big convention you’re hoping to attend.

Sometimes it’s accidental. In the rush to see old friends or talk to a writing buddy about the business, it’s easy to focus only on the people you already know, and to exclude those you don’t. I’ve probably done this before, which can make people feel shut out. I apologize if I’ve done it to you.

I do think sometimes we mistake the unintentional brush-off for deliberate dismissal. But speaking as an author and HUGO-AWARD WINNING BLOGGER (sorry - the squee is still slipping out occasionally), I also think it’s on me to be more aware of how easy it is to make someone feel blown off, and to try harder to avoid doing that.

What do you think?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 177 comments — Leave a comment )
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jaylake
Sep. 6th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
Like you, there are only two people in SF I deliberately avoid. Anyone else I blew off, I did by flying fast and being distracted, not on purpose. That being said, I'm certain I left at least few people feeling odd...

Sigh.

You can't pay attention to everyone at once. God knows I try, though.
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
Re:
I'm curious now if they're the same two people, but I'm not going to ask.

I think that trying is the best we can do, and I do think most people understand when others are busy or dealing with a hectic schedule with many demands.

I didn't feel at all blown off by you; just disappointed that there wasn't more time to talk. But I felt that way a lot.
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reedrover
Sep. 6th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
Con-energy is contageous, and so feelings are often magnified by that energy. When everyone around you is getting attention, the lack of eye contact for the one person in the middle is all the more painful for the contrasting lack of connection. The problem is that not everyone knows everyone, and not everyone is a true all-strangers-are-my-friends extrovert, even *gasp* BigTimeAuthors. Even more extreme, some people who are *trying* to be social by the skin of their teeth are only managing by grasping at the people they already know to keep from drowning in strangers. It stinks to have to realize that. Not everyone is as outgoing as I want them to be.

It's part of why I try to keep to my personal stalker rule. I only approach someone vaguely famous at Con once a day outside of context. If I get attention, great! If I don't, then don't keep trying and feel more and more frustrated and unhappy at them. (Context = signing table, vending table, etc. Out of context = in the hall, between gigs, during a large social gathering.)
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:05 pm (UTC)
I love that you have a personal stalker rule, if only because it means you've actually thought about it and are actively trying to find and walk that line :-)

Sometimes people are just jerks. But sometimes I think you're right that it's people on both sides of the interaction doing the best they can, and not quite managing to connect.
(no subject) - reedrover - Sep. 6th, 2012 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
tithenai
Sep. 6th, 2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
He says hi to the person on your left, grins and jokes with the person on your right, glances at your name badge, and then wanders off without saying a word to you.

I know this situation happens, but there's another situation that might look like it that isn't -- I might approach someone I know in a group to say hello, acknowledge the people around her, and then wait for an introduction. And if that doesn't happen, there's a moment's internal debate over whether I'm crashing a group thing, and whether it would be politic to introduce myself to the others on my own steam, or whether, having said hello, I should bow out gracefully and go somewhere else. And that can go either way.

It's great to be reflecting on this -- I haven't been to a convention since Wiscon 2011, and am going to WFC this year, so there's more nervousness than usual about managing the politics of social interaction.
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 01:57 pm (UTC)
That's a good point too. And another area where I tend to slip up, since there seems to be a fifty-fifty chance I'll utterly forget to do introductions until someone elbows me.
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snapes_angel
Sep. 6th, 2012 01:52 pm (UTC)
Hey, it happens. I think the worse thing is making a comment at a panel, and then having it blown off (though reassurance from another fan was squee). Of course, that was years ago, when I was actually still able to get around to cons.

And I suck at names, too, so don't feel bad, I'm no BNF or BNA or BNAnything, but I do the same thing. Check names on badges, that is (and I probably would end up with the name Starr Sapphron Fyre on mine, which probably would not help you much, lol).

Edited at 2012-09-06 01:54 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 01:56 pm (UTC)
I would recognize the name, but I probably wouldn't connect it with your LJ profile.

One of the nicest and most helpful things people did this weekend was introduce themselves to me and then add, "And I'm so-and-so on LiveJournal" :-)
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suricattus
Sep. 6th, 2012 01:59 pm (UTC)
Hah. Practical Meerkat was planning on taking on much that topic next week. Damn you, Hines...

(I'm still going to, but now people will assume I stole the idea from you. Well, steal from the best, they say.)
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:06 pm (UTC)
Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Also, it was so nice to finally meet you in person!
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starcat_jewel
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
In the rush to see old friends or talk to a writing buddy about the business, it’s easy to focus only on the people you already know, and to exclude those you don’t.

Now that you mention it, I think that's my default assumption for occasions when this has happened to me. Also, I'm fairly up-front about meeting people, and would be likely to stick out a hand and introduce myself if the Author was someone whose name I recognized.

I consider providing context (as in "I'm X on LJ") to be basic courtesy when meeting someone who may not recognize the name on my badge. I also do it when posting a comment to the personal blog (or Flickr, etc.) of someone who knows me in a different online community under another name.

Personal anecdote: at my first Worldcon, there was an author meet-and-greet reception at which the authors were marked by wearing party hats. I was wandering around with my program book, collecting autographs, but I didn't want to GET ALL THE AUTHORS -- I was looking for those whose names I recognized, so I was checking badges. And I remember worrying about whether this looked like I was blowing off those who weren't worth my time, until I saw that one author had written, "Thank you for asking ME and not the hat."
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:39 pm (UTC)
I might be a little brain-fried still, but can you explain the hat reference?
(no subject) - naomikritzer - Sep. 6th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
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cakmpls
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing this. It wouldn't have occurred to me, because if I am with other people and someone comes up who knows them and doesn't know me, and greets them and not me, I wouldn't think twice about it. I wouldn't feel blown off. So it's entirely possible that I have done this to others, with no idea that anyone would think it out of line.

I'll watch myself on the matter in the future, and again, thanks.
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
Everyone reacts differently, but it's come up enough that I thought it was worth talking about, and for me personally, trying to pay more attention to.
mtlawson
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
I go so rarely to events where I run into people who might know me --working from home does have that advantage-- that I'm frequently passed over for other people. It doesn't bother me, since I prefer anonymity.

But the scenario you describe is a bit different, and when part of the point of the con is the schmoozing and who-knows-who, yeah, that can be annoying. It's like watching middle school all over again, and I don't need to tell you what I think of middle school.
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC)
And I suspect a lot of us in fandom/convention circles had those experiences, which makes us more sensitive to it when it happens again.
(no subject) - suricattus - Sep. 6th, 2012 03:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
roseaponi
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
Making notes here... Add a second name tag with my LJ handle, and possibly wear a tshirt that says "INTROVERT - I like people, just not lots all at once." Or, "I'm Not Snubbing You - Just Dealing with Sensory Overload."
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
Adding the LJ handle to the name badge can be hugely helpful. (I don't bother, for hopefully-obvious reasons, but I probably should have back when I was dsnight.)
rikibeth
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
I tend to assume I'm Not Important Enough for people I think of as famous to recognize me -- you can only imagine how thrilled I was once to have a certain musician recognize me from my LJ icon, for example! But I'm also not shy about looking at a badge name, saying "Hey, you're X! You wrote Z! I really love your stuff!" and I'm trying to be good about not expecting more than a "thank you" in return.
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who Quote Time!

Huh ... I don't think I've ever met anyone who wasn't important. (But I do know what you mean.)
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jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
Or at least check whether two people know one another, yes. (I've found that this can occasionally save me huge embarrassment when it's someone I've just met and my brain has farted out all memory of their name.)

Also, I'm envious of your lunch!
highway_west
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:35 pm (UTC)
It takes a lot of work for me to put myself out there. The trick I learned is to never assume people know each other. If I am talking to two people and third comes into the conversation, I introduce them, even if I don't know one of them well.
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC)
I need to work on the introduction thing more, too.
(no subject) - highway_west - Sep. 6th, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
highway_west
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
PS: Congrats on the Hugo!!
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you!!!
cathshaffer
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for tackling this topic, Jim. I do think there's a healthy distinction to be made here between social skills and manners. Not everyone has great social skills, but there's no excuse for bad manners. It is very telling when someone walks into a party and seeks out the most famous person like a heat-seeking missile, introduces him/herself to that person only, and blows off the other people in the group. If not out of genuine concern for the feelings of others, the fear of being perceived as a shameless status-seeker should inspire people at conventions to practice good greeting and introduction etiquette.

Note, it's not always necessary to introduce yourself to a group when speaking only to one person, but it is a good idea to at least acknowledge that there are other humans there, and that you have interrupted their conversation. Something like, "I'm sorry, I just had a quick question and then I'll let you have Jim back," would be very nice.

I think sometimes people also founder because of the perceived power imbalance. If I as a fan spy my author idol across the room, and muster up my courage to go and introduce myself, it may not occur to me that my unimportant self could actually offend the people who are standing or sitting with him. But from the other side of that situation, it gets very tiresome to have fans popping over to gush all over my conversation partner. I have actually had people cut me off physically and even stick their asses in my face. A small modicum of consideration would prevent that.

What's more, again, for the status-seekers who honestly don't care about the feelings of others, keep in mind that famous people like to hang out with famous people, and that while you're accosting your target, you may be ignoring or blowing off an equally famous person standing next to him/her that you don't immediately recognize because you weren't expecting them.

Manners! They are the grease that lubricates our social gears.
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 03:11 pm (UTC)
"I have actually had people cut me off physically and even stick their asses in my face."

Ah yes, the infamous Ass Maneuver...
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fjm
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
One thing I have learned to do is to remember to introduce people. Often the Big Name just doesn't know what to say. They can feel awkward too.
jimhines
Sep. 6th, 2012 03:05 pm (UTC)
I need to work on that too, or at least being better about asking, "Hey, do you know each other?"
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