The Tortoise, Social Chameleon & Jack Bauer

Faced with the complexities of social life we tend to adopt one and/or a combination of several different approaches...How you balance these approaches and styles is vital to your social success...So it's time to ask yourself...what's your preference: The Tortoise, The Social Chameleon or the Jack Bauer...

The Social Tortoise

The social tortoise is a pretty easy one to understand and relate to. When faced with what they perceive to be danger the tortoise withdraws into its shell in the hope that potential predators will think it is a rock and not notice it. The same is true for a lot of people socially but, obviously, without the physical shell. The more potential risk of social humiliation the more the social tortoise shrinks into their metaphorical shell. Eventually they become like a screen saver on a computer…Always in the background while never really being noticed. For the social tortoise it’s better that way. It minimizes the risk of being socially humiliated. The perceived advantage of being a social tortoise is that by retracting your presence it keeps you safe from anything that could lower your social value.

The ironic thing is, the social tortoise is actually the weakest and most un-safe position to put yourself in. It’s the position of least influence and power in the group and has the highest potential for being singled out in a negative way. If a tortoise retracts into its shells it’s quite easy for something to swoop down, pick it up and throw it in the ocean without resistance. The same can be true for the social tortoise. They’ve made it very easy for people with less than good intentions to do and say whatever they like to them.

The Social Chameleon

The Social Chameleon is a master at self change in the eyes of others. When faced with a social situation the primary drive of a ‘Social Chameleon’ is to change themselves just to ‘fit in with the crowd’ so that they can be ‘deemed worthy of acceptance’. The Social Chameleon doesn’t appear to have any of their own beliefs and values, they just adopt those of the people around them. The Social Chameleon can appear very friendly and you can warm to them quickly because they are matching and mirroring your behaviour and sometimes even your identity. You think…wow! I like this person because they are just like me.

As time goes on though, and the relationship develops, you begin to notice that the Social Chameleon doesn’t just change themselves around you…They do it with nearly everyone!

Bit by bit you begin to suspect that they are ‘just saying those nice things’ to get on with you, not because they actually mean them. As you start to see more and more examples of how they constantly change the very essence of their identity depending on who they are with you doubt more and more the validity and truth in what they are saying…In essence it’s like the door to door salesmen who looks at your living room and says “wow, this is he nicest living room I’ve ever seen!” Deep down you don’t really believe that he isn’t saying it just to aid the sale…

Of course, I’m painting an extreme picture here. The reality is there are many shades of grey when it comes to the Social Chameleon. In a nutshell the Social Chameleon inside of us arises when we feel ‘the need’ to change aspects of ourselves (beliefs, attitudes, values, world views) just to fit in with the crowd…

This is, of course, not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s useful to play a bit of a Social Chameleon role to succeed at some of the many games of life. The problem occurs when we forget we’re playing a game.

It’s interesting to explore when and the Social Chameleon is born within us.

As I’ve previously mentioned during very early socialization we are presented with an almost alien like un familiar environment, suddenly having to interact with a wide range of personalities of varying different shapes, sizes and intensities. Throw into the mix that young children appear to have an incredibly low threshold for anything deemed ‘different’ by the majority, it leads most to one conclusion. (At least at some level).

The conclusion that they have to change themselves to be part of the group or that by being different it means they are ‘an outsider’ or not ‘good enough’ for acceptance.

It’s definitely clear that this low threshold for difference lessens with age and, in fact, as I aim to prove to you later on, actually becomes an advantage. It does seem, however, in my opinion, to be the main driver of birth of the Social Chameleon.

The Jack Bauer

The Jack Bauer style of socializing is a drastically different one from the Social Chameleon. Even if you haven’t seen the TV series 24 I’d imagine you’ll be aware of the lead character Jack Bauer’s style of people skills. Rather than adapt, change and mould himself to the environment to win peoples over he blasts through it with semtex and C4!

The Jack Bauer approach to social interaction is both powerful and risky. Rather than change their own beliefs and values to fit in with the world the Jack Bauer’s of the world step into social situations with an un-penetrable sense of their own reality and personality. They have such a strong sense of self you can feel their presence and influence immediately. They believe that the world changes to fit into them rather than them into the world and the truth is, a lot of the time, it does. The Jack Bauer decides the social rules rather than plays by them. They decide what is deemed right, wrong, accepted or excluded.

The Jack Bauer approach is very powerful and charismatic but it also comes with consequences. Because of its dramatic nature it’s usually met with one of two responses. The first is that people succumb to its power and follow. When someone is so certain about what their personality and what they believe to be true it’s very difficult to not feel intoxicated by it and be drawn into their world.

Because of this a large portion of people will lower their defences and allow themselves to be lead by the Jack Bauer…

The second response, however, isn’t quite as attractive…A lot of the time the opposite can happen. Rather than bending their own reality to accommodate the Jack Bauer they reject it. For a lot of people (usually strong personalities themselves) the Jack Bauer style of social interaction is highly intrusive and disrespectful. “Why should I change when they are so inflexible!” is often the response…Because the Jack Bauer’s behaviour demands people to be influenced by it whether they like it or not it can often repel rather than attract. A lot of people might not want to be influenced by the Jack Bauer’s beliefs, values and world view and have a strong enough sense of self to resist their intensity. This can often lead to one place…social rejection, dislike and conflict. The Jack Bauer, in their eyes, suddenly becomes self absorbed, selfish and socially inflexible.

It’s hard to say what creates a Jack Bauer. My theory is that, at an early age, rather than coming to the conclusion that they have to change themselves to fit in with the crowd, they reject this and head off in the completely opposite direction…Deciding that ‘they don’t have to change themselves for anybody!” going off and making up their own rules instead.

Creating Balance

You’ve probably guessed that being a social tortoise has very few (if any) advantages. Perhaps a period of retraction could be useful when entering a new group, to study the different dynamics in effect but apart from that it is the weakest position to put yourself in.

The Social Chameleon has its advantages as it allows you to blend and shape your personality depending on the people you are with helping you to be accepted a lot quicker. The flip side is you lose a lot of the tremendous power that is your uniqueness and eventually it can come across needy, desperate and dishonest.

The Jack Bauer has tremendous power. It’s about allowing what is going on on the inside to flourish and present itself to the world without caring what people think. It’s about being a trailblazer, blasting through any resistance with your strong and powerful world view. It certainly has big advantages but it also has disadvantages. People will either go along with you or passionately reject you. There’s very little in between. You become like marmite…you’re either loved or hated and you can often miss really important and useful information because you are so focused and strong in your own world view.

So what’s the alternative you may ask? One alternative is balance. To take the best bits from each approach and blend them accordingly depending on which situation you are in. It’s about reaching the stage where you’re sensitive of people’s needs and what works while maintaining a strong sense of who you are. It’s about being flexible in your behaviour at the same time as being strong in your own world view and what’s important to you and, if you do have to change things a bit more than you would like, that’s okay providing you realise you are only playing a bit of a game.

If you would like to experience a deep sense of your own self confidence and finally banish those unnecessary social fears and anxieties for good then check out The Guide to Social Confidence CD Kit available on Digital Download.

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