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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 2, Issue 6, 03/27/08

The Introvert Smile

I'm sitting in a coffee shop, watching a man who's walking around looking at the photographs on the walls. Apparently to get a close-up view, he leans over the table of a woman sitting at her laptop till his chin is just inches above her head! My eyebrows rise, wondering what she'll do. She totally ignores him! (He doesn't stay there long.)

I can't help but smile at this scenario it's got my attention - and the next thing I know, he's at my table, pointing to another picture, asking me if I know which mountain it is.

I'd guess he's an extrovert :-). But what I'm thinking about is my smile.

Some years into discovering myself as an introvert, I must admit it's one of my favorite things in life. I coined the term "conscious introvert" and I love turning myself into one. I see four broad categories: reframing that being an introvert is an asset; taking good care of that valuable commodity, energy; finding introvert ways of doing things in an extroverted world; and becoming skillful at extroverting when it's called for.

Recognizing introversion as an asset may be the most significant it makes me happy.

Paying attention to my energy is challenging but not optional. And has its rewards. It's challenging because the world is so busy, and my life, too. And it's challenging because no matter how much my body gets drained or over-stimulated, my mind has an old habit of trying to ignore it. If I don't pay attention, the cost is too high. But the more I pay attention, the more energy I have, which is a good thing.

Finding introvert ways of doing things (in an extroverted world) is like working on a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes I'm engrossed, then I forget about it, then something draws me back into the game.

And it's a subtle process. Talking less and enjoying it more is an "introvert way of doing things" for me - having less expectation of myself to say what I'm thinking or feeling, not only in extroverted environments but even in ideal introvert situations, like one to one conversations. I'm finding it relaxing.

Getting more skillful at extroverting is less like a jigsaw puzzle and more like reading the whole god-blessed manual for my cell phone, hoping it makes a difference. Out of my comfort zone but a good idea. Occasionally I take an extroverting risk and almost never regret it. Being a good small talker is a big extroverting goal of mine. Periodically I practice a little but mostly I just think about it, so far.

But about smiling. I've got a new category for conscious introverts. I call it introvert/extrovert fusion. And I see the "introvert smile" as an introvert/extrovert fusion strategy.

Last fall I learned that smiling stimulates many energy points on the face. Wanting my energy points to be well-stimulated, I've increased my smiling considerably since then :-).

But let's not underestimate the potential of a good smile!

A generalization made about introverts is the tendency to be focused inward. Out in the world, that may happen because we're engrossed in our thoughts, somewhat oblivious to what's going on around us. Or it may be more deliberate, a strategy to conserve energy.

In either case, it's quite possible we're not smiling. And it's not hard to see how inward-focused, unsmiling introverts could give rise to assumptions of shyness, unfriendliness, self-absorption.

Here's where the "introvert smile" comes in. My definition: an authentic (maybe subtle) smile, sending a message that you're present, available, but not necessarily about to start a conversation. It's extroverting in its outward focus and introverted in the intention to "stay home." A comfortable fusion.

In the coffee shop, I don't know if I was doing an introvert smile or a generic grin. The man and I talked a bit about the mountain, he in sentences, me in one-word responses. It made me happy and didn't use much energy. (And I stimulated my energy points :-).

End of food for thought on to some practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

Try out the introvert smile.

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

Be on the lookout for people who seem shy, unfriendly, or self-absorbed and wonder if you're right.

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