Whenever I share that I’m an introvert people are shocked. “But you easily talk in meetings.” “But you have such a great network.” “But you facilitate huge offsites.” I typically respond with a smile and share, “I’m an introvert raised by a flaming extroverted mother, so I know how to fake it.”
Many confuse introvert and shy… and I am anything but shy. A common definition of introvert is “a person who prefers calm environments, limits social engagements, or embraces greater than average preference for solitude.” I prefer a comparison definition that an introvert thinks in their head and loses energy in large groups; whereas extroverts think with their mouth and get charged up with each interpersonal interaction.
I can remember growing up and watching my parents after a big church function or wedding reception. Dad would go sit quietly to watch TV or read and might recall a deep conversation with 1-2 people at the event. Mom on the other hand was like Tigger, vibrant and vibrating, recounting chat after chat after chat she had with an endless number of people. Introvert. Extrovert.
I am grateful that in my first managerial role, members of my team took me aside and gave me feedback. They shared they were lost in meetings and couldn’t understand where my answers to the client came from. I was surprised as I thought they were all obvious answers. I explained how I collected things – nuggets of information, ideas, images – and constantly processed them in my head. What I realized from the discussion is that others didn’t do this, they needed to talk it out.
As I moved up the corporate ladder, I also noticed what leader-type got recognized and rewarded: the verbal one. While I think this is an outdated leadership model, it’s the norm none the less. Through experience, I came to believe that if you’re at the table, you better be heard so you’re invited back… verbal participation = engaged participant.
But I’ve learned that working in an extroverted style for sustained periods of time has two big side effects. First, my extroverting and others, pushes out the space for introverts’ ideas that typically require more processing time. Second, I cannot sustain the cultural expectation of the extroverted, gregarious leader without significant recharge time which is nearly impossible with the increased number of online meetings through the pandemic and into a long-term hybrid work model.
To help re-balance I:
- Block time after complex meetings and facilitation to quietly process
- Check with teammates to see if canceling a meeting would help them or share I need some down time
- Include quite time in strategy or planning sessions to help introverts (and myself) catch our breath and formulate our thoughts
- Have standing one-on-one meetings with other introverts with whom I have a deep connection and can simply be with, rather than host for
- Do body scan meditation before a “big” meeting to see what I’m carrying in with me, how tense I am, or how frantic I feel and settle in to a calmer state
- Seek opportunities for mindfulness such as offer for folks to take a few breaths before a meeting starts or share a joy from the week… or take a mindful walk after a complex week or have a Saturday of silence
So, to all my peer introverts, I feel you.
So, to all my extroverted peers – I feel you.
Here’s to being together in more solitude.