Saying Goodbye to Envy Preemption
It seems odd, but observation—not praise, not blame, not complaint, not self-deprecation—is the behavior that allows other people to relax in your presence, forget your differences, and enjoy being with you. When you're managing envy preemption, you're not actually seeing any aspect of other people besides their reaction to you. The one question in your head is: "How am I doing? How am I doing? How am I doing?" Stepping clear of this narcissistic angst requires only that you change the question slightly, to "How are you doing?"
If you ask this as a ploy for attention (the way Joey did in the TV series Friends), it will fall flat. But if you mean it, it can transform awkward social posturing into real connection. The most socially gracious people I know share one character trait: intense, nonjudgmental curiosity.
I recently lost one of these beloved friends to cancer. When I visited her shortly before her death, I was nervous; I wasn't sure what one says to a dying person. My friend erased all that uneasiness the instant she saw me. Rather than discussing her medical condition, she threw open her arms and said, "What's been happening to you? Tell me everything!" To the very end of her life, she remained captivated by other people's stories—so much so that I don't believe she ever even thought to herself, How am I doing? Everything she said seemed to be some version of "Here's looking at you, kid."