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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 1, Issue 6, 9/27/07

The Introvert Way

In August I spent a whole day at the state fair "extroverting" and I had a great time, even though it wiped me out. One evening last week I spent three hours in extrovert mode and I didn't have a great time. But I learned a lesson.

I went to a "networking event", one of those gatherings explicitly designed for exchanging information about yourself with others, for the purpose of advancing your business - networking.

Now, I already know I don't like networking events but I've decided to go because this isn't just a regular networking meeting - it includes a presentation about communication from an organization whose work I'm interested in - so there's the possibility of some new information or perspective. And in the meantime, maybe I'll discover I've outgrown my distaste for networking meetings.

I feel quite confident as I arrive. Not exactly comfortable, because it's in a part of town I don't know well, the building is totally unfamiliar, and I suspect I'll know no one, which turns out to be true. (Three things that don't create comfort for introverts.)

But I'm feeling confident because I've been psyching myself up for this evening: my game plan is to be myself (as an introvert) and see what happens.

I get some appetizers, sit down at a table with an empty spot, and introduce myself. When someone asks me why I'm there I tell her I'm an introvert and that I'm always exploring ways to be out in the world.

Lo and behold, it turns out all three of my tablemates have already reported to each other that they're introverts! Off we go into a conversation about being introverts. How cool is that - my game plan is turning out better than I expected!

But as the evening continues, I'm not happy. I'm participating appropriately - I might even be mistaken for an extrovert. And I had that good start, talking to my introvert tablemates.

At the state fair I was in a situation I'd call extreme extroverting - initiating short conversations with a continuous stream of people for hours - and it was exhausting, but it was also satisfying. Here I am, in a fairly low-key setting and I'm feeling less satisfied by the minute.

"Conscious introvert" is a term I've coined to describe an intentional way of being an introvert. I see four aspects: framing being an introvert as an asset; making re-energizing a high priority; creating "introvert" ways of doing things; and developing "extroverting" skills.

By the time I leave - not lingering for one moment! - the lesson is beginning to dawn on me. It has to do with creating introvert ways of doing things.

I see more clearly than ever that networking events are extroverted in nature. In the presentation part of this evening there's some good coaching on the difference between authentic and inauthentic networking, but the context is still extroversion - a group of people having brief, to-the-point interactions, as efficiently as possible.

Generally speaking, an introvert would prefer an in-depth conversation with one person.

But the lesson for me is this: behaving like an introvert is good for my soul. Extroverting at the fair was good for my soul, too. But the more I do things my own introvert way, the better I feel.

Life is complex, each person is unique, and there isn't "an introvert way". But for me, when it comes to networking meetings, the cost outweighs the benefits - behaving like an introvert means staying away from them!

To create our own "introvert" ways of doing things in an extroverted culture with a ratio of three extroverts for every introvert is not a small assignment. I think it asks us to trust ourselves and to risk feeling even more out-of-the- ordinary. But what have we got to lose?! (Unhappiness :-))

End of food for thought - on to practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

Pick an activity in your life that feels unsatisfying and look to see what it has to do with being an introvert. If there's no connection (dissatisfaction happens for many reasons :-)), pick a different activity. When you have one, see if you can find more of an introvert way of doing it.

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

Pick one of your favorite things to do and think about how an introvert would relate to it. If it seems like an "extrovert" activity, how could it be adapted to be more satisfying for an introvert?

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