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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 3, Issue 11, 10/22/09

Introvert/Extrovert Fusion

A few weeks ago I had an interesting morning - it was my longest ever sustained experience of introvert/extrovert fusion.

"Introvert/extrovert fusion" is a term I coined for strategies that combine elements of introverting and extroverting. I've written about what I call the "introvert smile," for instance. I define it as 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. And a good way to dispel the myth that introverts are shy or unfriendly or self-absorbed.

But my interesting morning wasn't a strategy - it was a whole experience that just happened. And it was remarkably comfortable.

The setting was an early morning workshop - two leaders and maybe ten participants (of which I was one). It started with informal gathering time, refreshments. The format of the workshop was a warm-up activity followed by short presentations of material interspersed with discussion. About two hours worth by the time I headed out the door.

The introvert/extrovert fusion experience was so noticeable, it's what I was thinking about as I drove away. I thought to myself, "Hmm. It felt like I was introverting and extroverting at the same time!" Not a familiar feeling.

(In my fascination with introverts, more often than not I'm watching myself, with a running commentary on how things are going for me the introvert.)

Usually I compartmentalize. I gear up to go to a birthday party and think of it as extroverting. I come home from an eight-hour meeting and remind myself I'm over-stimulated by all that extroverting to help me (hopefully) carve out extra down time. Or I have a day of open-ended time by myself and think how much my introvert self appreciates it. Compartments - introverting and extroverting.

But this was different - it didn't seem like I'd been "extroverting". I felt very much myself, an introvert in a comfortable mode. Though I was extroverting, it seemed more natural than usual, almost no big deal. And me the introvert was definitely leading. I wondered how it happened.

Here's what I came up with. Almost everyone was new to me in this group. One participant I'd been in a similar setting with once or twice and one of the leaders is both my friend and a colleague. She happens to be a very conscious introvert.

So for one thing, having a conscious introvert I know and love in charge of this gathering automatically created a level of comfort. And it offset making small talk with a group of strangers at 7:15 in the morning!

Because she's such a conscious introvert, my co-leader friend made a reference to introverts and extroverts in the introduction. When we debriefed on the warm-up exercise (which involved fast mingling and coming up with quick answers) it wasn't hard for me to identify myself as an introvert and report that the pace was challenging.

The other leader is an extrovert. (Though she didn't identify herself that way it was obvious :-). I could tell the two of them attend to their way of co-leading. I don't know that they specifically work with being an introvert/extrovert team, but by my standards it was good introvert/extrovert fusion.

The material they presented wasn't superficial and neither were the group discussions. My introvert brain was stimulated and I found myself contributing at my own pace. Including at one point explaining I was going to say something about a topic we'd already finished, because I'd needed a little more time to think about it.

What's the moral of this story? Not sure. But before I speculate, let me digress a moment to review what I consider a conscious introvert, since I've been referring to my friend, the workshop co-leader, that way.

"Conscious introvert" is the term I use to describe an introvert who knows the (fairly recent) information about the physicality of temperament - that our bodies are hard-wired to be introverted or extroverted. And a conscious introvert is aware that our society is very extroverted.

A conscious introvert also reframes her perspective on introverts - that it's an asset, not a burden (despite numerous negative misconceptions in the world at large). She takes good care of her energy - no small task in a world that's not introvert friendly. And a conscious introvert both cultivates her own introvert way of life and develops the extroverting skills she wants or needs. My friend the co-leader completely fits the bill.

The moral of this story may be that one conscious introvert leader can create an introvert friendly environment without even trying. Or maybe it's, "Don't be afraid to compartmentalize - there are better days ahead :-)."

Whatever the moral, I'm a fan of introvert/extrovert fusion. And I think it's time for me to brush up on my introvert smile - it's been awhile.

End of food for thought, onto some practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

If you haven't uncovered your "introvert smile", give it a try. If you have, declare yourself an introvert smile day and go for some practice.

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

Wonder what an interesting extrovert/introvert fusion strategy might be for an extrovert. (And let me know what you come up with :-).

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