The art of ear hustling: How to be social by not minding your business
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Ear hustling is a way of life for me.
It comes in handy in social situations when the number of people you know outside of the person you came with is exactly zero. Now, I wouldn’t have to do this if I were a superhuman extrovert, but for us introverts, we need a game plan, a social strategy of sorts. And my personal favorite is hustling for ears.
Here’s how it works: I’ll listen to other people having a conversation, find a part that somehow relates to me and jump directly into their business. If you finesse it just right, it’s like you were meant to be there all along.
But as we all know, the proof is in the pudding. Let me take you to the day I ear hustled my way out of my introversion.
I recently took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Florida to visit a good friend. He invited me to a barbecue, and aside from him, I didn’t know anyone else there. This is the type of situation where I pull out my dog hearing and start ear hustling at astronomical frequencies.
When I first walked into the barbecue, I got really excited — not because I’d magically stopped being an introvert, but because the crowd was mixed. As a black woman who craves the strangest of conversations, this is a good thing. My intellect goes far beyond my neighborhood or issues in the black community. I can chop it up with you about gold grills, Star Trek and the theory of evolution in one breath — then wrap it up with a conversation on the validity of religion just to see where your head’s at.
As I checked out all the faces at the barbecue, I saw a beautiful sea of skin tones. There were hues of brown from cinnamon to dark umber. Peach and olive-skinned faces zipped past me in a rush to claim their share of charred fish, fresh from the grill. I could see an interesting range of personalities; meaning I had a wide variety of conversations to interrupt.
Before I put my plan in motion, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for five hours of ear hustling and not minding my business. I sat down beside my friend, nibbled at my food and immediately started listening.
There was a guy sitting in front of us who kept saying the word “Pikachu.” I stopped eating — You mean to tell me there’s a Pikachu in the area, like at this pool, just chillin’ in the midst of the function? I pulled out my phone, fired up Pokémon Go and told everyone at the table I was about to catch it — hell, I’d use all 40 of my Poké Balls if I had to.
“Nah, nah,” he corrected me. “We’re talking about someone who just walked in.” So then I felt like someone was about to walk into the function like this:
I didn’t really know anything about the human they kept calling a Pikachu, so I couldn’t comment on that. Instead I shifted the conversation toward Pokémon Go, and there I was creating an instant bond with people I’d met five minutes ago. This is where ear hustling really pays off.
Before you know it, you’ve reached deep down into your soul to pull out that inner extrovert you didn’t even know was there.
More success came in the form of a huge muscular guy screaming out commands to the DJ. He animatedly spread his arms, bulging with ropes of lean muscle, and tilted his head up to shout, “Somebody play ‘Throw That A** In a Circle!” A group sitting near him laughed and nodded in agreement. Of course, I had to interject.
“You know that song was made by a Dallas artist, right?” I say. “Someone in my city.”
He shook his head, and everyone around him looked intrigued.
“Yeah, the song is really old,” I continue. “I actually know someone in the music video.”
He immediately whips out his phone to find the video on YouTube, and for the next six minutes, we listen to Lil Ronny shout dance instructions at his ideal woman — all while watching to see exactly which girl I knew and confirm whether or not she gyrated in a full circle (For the record, she completed a full 360 degrees).
Eventually, I came to the point where I didn’t have to ear hustle or interrupt conversations.
It’s okay to watch your flowers grow after putting in some work, so I can’t take credit for the next few events. But I definitely kept asking questions about the lifestyle of a mother who told random stories at our table. The answers I got were delightfully disturbing.
At one point in her life, a car unfortunately hopped the curb, struck her and drug her down the street. She told the story with a detached expression.
“How far were you dragged?” I asked, eager to know more.
“About six blocks,” she answered calmly. I winced.
She then sprang into a series of larger-than-life stories, explaining how she once married a man and somehow they picked up a second wife. But as long as she was wife No. 1, and everyone abided by her rules, she didn’t mind. She decided it wasn’t the life for her some years later, but admitted she wouldn’t mind having a housewife of her own today. It was the type of conversation that only comes around every decade, but if you’re being asocial, you’ll miss it every time.
This barbecue didn’t teach me anything new.
I always knew there were two ways to behave at a function — like you’re actually there or completely absent. I think we all know this deep down. The problem is that we don’t act on it. We don’t work on making ourselves who we truly aspire to be. If you’re an introvert, you’ll want to ear hustle your way out of that quiet corner, where people pay more attention to handheld screens than what’s going on around them.
So forget what you’ve heard. Being nosy is how to overcome being an introvert in a crowd of people. The conversation was between A and B, and you did not C your way out, you pushed through what seemed like a barrier and had a good time. Be proud.
Rest assured, when the function’s over, we introverts can all just go back to normal. But right now, with all these watching eyes, let’s just fake it for the next few hours.