Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Interpersonal Skills for Introverts: Appreciate Yourself More as an Introvert to Gain Confidence

Lately I've been captivated by a couple of extroverts in action. Once was simply seeing a photo of a well- known celebrity (no, I won't name names) among some adoring folks seated chatting with her in an informal setting. They were clearly enchanted in the extreme.  What struck me?  These people looked genuinely happy. There was no artifice - only pure enjoyment. 

Okay, I'll say it: People who are naturally extroverted usually are fun. Now, I'll likely catch some flak for saying that from some of my introverted friends. (And of course it's not a universal truth because some extroverts are not fun.) But many introverts do indeed know that as much as extroverts may annoy them from time to time, extroverted pals are the proof that opposites really do attract. It's the warmth. The smiles. The twinkling eyes accompanied by effortless chat.

We introverts have all those qualities too - just not as a universal way of being with others out in the world. Don't misunderstand me: we are fun.  But we can be pigeon-holed as morose by our extroverted Western culture. That's sometimes a real tragedy in our lives and frequently a very real professional challenge that we have to surmount and overcome.  Merely by virtue of being quiet, we are occasionally slotted as being not only boring but just not that much fun to be around! (Not to mention vacuous - "if you're not talking, you have nothing to say" is such a tragic and false assumption about introverts.) Even more damaging perhaps is when being quiet is falsely viewed as lacking interpersonal capabilities - another myth.

I am tempted to suggest that we find a way to be what extroverts are.  And that is surely a strategy in small doses and in carefully chosen settings. It usually means knowing our subject and becoming totally comfortable in the element that we're in. Think of that nerdy kid you knew in 6th grade when he got to talk about his passion in class.  Heck, you may have been that nerdy kid - so you might think of the times and places where you are animated and seek to replicate that.

But - and it's a big but - I believe there's something fundamentally wrong about setting the goal of becoming more extroverted more often. Instead, I suggest that we appreciate extroverts for who they are and appreciate ourselves more for who we are.  It is the confidence that comes from being "comfortable in our skin" that gives the greatest boost to our professional demeanor and consequent success.  Not arrogant or timid, not resentful, not anything but truly accepting that, as an introvert, we are different in a good way. And, in fact, this acceptance often comes in part from knowing when we are in our element doing what we are good at.

Captivating?  Perhaps or perhaps not. But calm, capable, and confident and that's much more than enough.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Beyond Silence: The Savvy Introvert's Guide to Listening at Work

No one ever listened him or herself out of a job

This paraphrased quote from Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, reminded me that as introverts we frequently talk less so we're less likely to talk ourselves out of a job. There's comfort in that and it's one of an introvert's strengths. But there is the flip side to it as well. Do we really listen or is it just that we're not talking? Most of the time we're processing what is being said but, since we're human, that may not always be true. Quiet isn't the same as really listening to someone. If we're just silent, but not genuinely listening, we're missing the point of the quote. 

To do well professionally, listening is important. For all kinds of reasons. Listening provides valuable information: about things that are important to getting your work done, like facts, and also about people. People are important to getting your work done in most professions. If you don't listen, you miss out. The importance of people shows up not only with clients but in that ubiquitous essential: your "network". I recommend reciprocity principles to build a strong network as an introvert: give and you will receive. This builds on your introvert strengths. It's simple and it works but it relies on listening! We can't know what to give to help someone out if we don't know what he/she needs or wants.   

How do you, an introvert, listen? I suggest three ways to get started and then you can embellish from there.   

1. Care - To listen to someone at work, you first have to care about them as a colleague or associate. It's that simple. You don't have to love them, or even like them necessarily, but you have to believe that they matter. Their ideas matter, their intentions matter, their efforts matter. This may sound easier than it is sometimes. It can take effort to care. But it also is an essential quality of a true professional.

2. Respect - To listen to someone at work, you have to respect what they have to say. You don't have to agree but you have to respect enough to be silent and take it all in and to think about its meaning. Again, not always simple but fundamental to listening.

3. Feedback - Finally, to listen to someone at work, you have to let them know that you care, respect, and are hearing what they are communicating. You do this with your eyes, your nods, your body stance that leans in or away or crosses legs or keeps arms open; with no side glances to check your text messages. You also do it verbally: from "Mmhmm" to "I see what you mean".  You do it by engaging and asking questions to better understand what they are saying. And you do it by telling them when you like their ideas and by encouraging them to expand their ideas. 

So go ahead, listen away, and be assured of some job security that builds on your savvy introversion.