Indicating Introversion / Extroversion at Conferences and Public Meeting Spaces

While I was at Innovate Pasadena’s Friday Morning Coffee Meetup on the topic of design this morning, I saw a woman wearing a large decorative flower in her hair. It reminded me of the social custom of Hawaiian women wearing flowers in their hair and what that indicates socially in terms of their wanting to be approached or not.

This made me begin wondering about the less gregarious or introverted people at meetings or conferences who can become overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and interactions that it becomes so burdensome that they need to take a break and get away for a bit. What if there were a way to easily indicate at conferences that one wanted to be approached, pitched, or engaged in conversation? While some are sure to still need quiet spaces or breaks, perhaps there’s a way to leverage external indicators to generally diminish the additional social, mental, and emotional burdens of interacting in large crowds of strangers?

I might suggest using the position of one’s name tag as the indicator, but in the United States, generally etiquette has been to wear the name tag on the right hand side and at many conferences it’s almost more common that one wears a lanyard which prevents explicit positioning of a name tag in any case. I might also suggest using different sides of a name tag or lanyard, but experience with the physics and design of these indicates they would be poorly suited for this.

The second method that comes to mind is to use the placement on the right/left of other conference paraphernalia? Perhaps pronoun badges might serve this secondary function? It’s a bit Western-oriented to suggest, but perhaps following the existing pattern of wedding rings on the left hand (or flowers above the left ear in Hawaiian culture) to indicate that one is “unavailable” or would prefer not to be bothered, pitched, or interacted with at the moment? Wearing them on the right indicates I’m open for conversation, pitches, or interaction. Using this also has the potential side benefit of encouraging more conferences to explicitly advertise pronouns and normalize these sorts of behaviors and cultural conventions.

Multi-colored pronoun buttons for she (orange), he (yellow), they (green), and ask (red) as well as an IndieWebCamp button
Image courtesy of the IndieWeb.org wiki via Aaron Parecki (with a CC0 license)

Have other event organizers considered this sort of system before? Are there other examples of it occurring in the wild? What other external indicators could one use and simultaneously be easy for both organizers and participants?

I thought I had done it ages ago, but gRegor Morrill’s post reminded me and upon checking I realized that I hadn’t made the update. So tonight I’ve added my pronouns to my profile card on my website.

I remember grabbing an identity button at a recent fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. That night I think I talked about 10 others into wearing them after emphasizing the importance of helping to normalize proper pronoun use.

Four people in cocktail attire pose for a photo in the lobby of the Langham Hotel.
Sonia Solin; Chris Aldrich; Kerry Ayazi; Spencer Kook at the Planned Parenthood Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley fundraiser in 2019. Sonia and Spencer are wearing their pronoun buttons; I haven’t gotten to Kerry before we took the photo.

Like gRegor said so well:

This removes any ambiguity and helps normalize the practice of sharing our pronouns. Not everyone uses pronouns that match the gender they present as and some people use non-gendered pronouns. If only those people shared their pronouns, it would make them feel “other.”

Read Pronouns in the Bio by gRegor MorrillgRegor Morrill (gregorlove.com)
Here is a simple thing you can include as part of your online profiles: list the pronouns people can use when referring to you. This removes any ambiguity and helps normalize the practice of sharing our pronouns. Not everyone uses pronouns that match the gender they present as and some people use no...

👓 Johnson: Does speaking German change how I see social relationships? | The Economist

Read Johnson: Does speaking German change how I see social relationships? (The Economist)
Different languages condition different habits of mind—but perhaps not entirely different worldviews
I wonder what this same type of research looks like for pronouns of non-binary people?