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.

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