Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tips for Introverts

Dear Emily,
How does an introvert beef up their people/conversation tolerance when working in an interaction-heavy environment? 
– Asking for a Friend

Dear Friend,

I love this question so much. Here's my best advice (which I am saving for my own future reference).

Give Yourself a New Context

Instead of picturing yourself as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, separate your job title from your identity. If you can think of the tasks that belong to your role as opportunities to gain additional skills, the number of hours spent at work are much more tolerable.

Think of yourself as being enrolled in a tuition-free program for personal development. Ask yourself, “How can my current role prepare me for a future role?” This makes introversion one more tool you have at your disposal, not a character flaw to overcome.

Practice Extroversion

Act like an extrovert for a specific period of time. Experiment with the things extroverts do: initiate conversations, give verbal greetings, smile, ask questions, narrate your actions, maintain eye contact, etc. In other words, make yourself open to interaction, whatever form it may take.

Maximize your own daily rhythms – if you’re not a morning person, don’t practice before your first cup (or two) of coffee has kicked in. Don’t launch an extrovert expedition during your post-lunch slump. Be intentional in your availability but be realistic. Give yourself a hard stop. For example make “extrovert skill building” the last hour of your work day. If it becomes totally intolerable you can just count down the minutes and then run out of the building.

Document Your Findings

Start a list of the things you discover while exploring the world of extroversion. What discomforts do you experience? What triggers your curiosity? Play the role of investigative journalist conducting your own research. Find an audience to share your findings with.

Explain Yourself

Educate the people around you about what it's like to be you. Identify yourself as an introvert and, given the opportunity, explain that this doesn’t mean you hate people, it just means extended periods of time with people is exhausting. Inform your co-workers that you need time to rally between meetings, following a presentation, or after an intense period of productivity. Give yourself permission to end conversations.

People who want to brainstorm with you want your input, but don't know how to ask for it. Thank them and then let them know you need time to think. Say out loud, “I want to give this my full attention. Can I get back to you later this afternoon?” or “Can I follow up with an email?” or “Let's schedule a meeting for this conversation after I’ve spent some time with the topic.” This gives you time to figure out what the heck they’re talking about and not feel put on the spot.

Start Small

Increasing your tolerance for conversation is not like dieting: you can do it intermittently and in small increments. On a diet, one tries to replace everything they eat with healthy options. Deviating from the plan can lead to downfall: an isolated incident of sugar intake can sabotage the whole thing. Not so with the introversion/extroversion spectrum. Between chatty interactions, you can still close your door (if you have one) and be quiet for 30 minutes without losing any momentum (in fact, that mini recharge of solitude will help you with the next conversation  – that’s the beauty of being an introvert!).

Give Yourself Practical Support

  1. Schedule down time so your calendar shows you are unavailable during tasks that require concentration.
  2. Put yourself on time out: take a walk, find an empty room to meditate in, sit in your car, hide in a bathroom stall, drive to the nearest plant nursery and look at seedlings, eat lunch in a restaurant by yourself.
  3. Note the length of your next verbal exchange. How does the actual number of minutes you spend talking compare to the amount of time spent pining for privacy? Don’t psych yourself out with expectancy or dread.
  4. Summon the strengths of your alternate roles: Patient Parent of Toddler, Artist, Musician, Free-Lancer, Diplomat, etc.

Plan for Spontaneity

Choose a designated amount of time to sit in the lunch room and engage in conversation with whoever happens to be there. Like a real-life Choose Your Own Adventure, every exchange with a co-worker will add to the plot. See what wild and wacky things you learn just by being available.

Dodge the Spotlight

One of the most disconcerting things about being surrounded by extroverts is EXPOSURE. Continuous interaction feels like I’m failing a test I didn’t have time to study for (or even write my name on). When an extrovert initiates a conversation, respond with a question of your own and pay close attention to the answer(s).

Introverts make good listeners because it's in our nature to be silent and allow space between topics. Extroverts fill that space with lots of noisy chatter. Use the shift in attention to move the focus off of you. You’ll still be engaged from a position of listening – the introvert’s secret weapon.

Crowd Source

  1. Partner with a fellow introvert who can give you thumbs-up, raised eyebrow approval, or emails of encouragement as they overhear you yukking it up with the office chatterboxes.
  2. Ask your boss or another supervisor you trust for suggestions. Experienced managers who are effective with their teams may have additional ideas. 

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