I knew I was an introvert when, despite my enjoyment of mingling and offering my share of personal opinions, I came to quickly crave a few minutes of quiet. I needed it to regroup and regain the energy I had expended engaging several people at once in a way that did not come naturally to me - it's a skill I've learned to master.
I once marveled at people who could rattle on for what seemed like hours, telling jokes or sharing anecdotes showcasing their amazing memories and awareness of everything around them. It has been proven that extroverts take longer to "warm up" and use intense conversation and a relatively powerful presence as a way to gain momentum to reach their level of comfort when engaging others.
Introverts are winning more praise thanks to new acknowledgement of the power we wield due to our reluctance to enter into extended conversational jousting. Susan Cain, an introvert and author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking is one of the leaders in this conversation about one's inner strength that has everyone's ear.
It used to be that the most powerful person in the room was the one who spoke loudest and longest and could justify their powerful presence by their accomplishments and professional status.
Happily, that has changed. In an age where being constantly connected and where impulsiveness and controversy are used as tools for profile building, the person who reflects before venturing an opinion and is keen to learn about others rather than talking about him/herself is seen as the holder of power. Sir Francis Bacon wrote that, "Knowledge is power." Those who gain information and use it wisely are the ones who are ultimately in control. While others talk, they are listening and have a knack for picking their spot to add to a conversation based on what they have heard.
Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Rosa Parks (easily among the greatest influencers of all time) are known as introverts. Whether you describe yourself as being introverted or extroverted, you probably have moments when you wished you were either a little more reserved or more outgoing.
As a shy person, one of those moments when you wish you were more outgoing could be during a client appreciation event when the star of the show is a colleague who has clients falling over themselves in laughter or held in rapt attention.
Some might interpret your silence in the face of the steady flow of conversation as indifference or disapproval because the conversation does not meet your intellectual standards. In fact, you may be very interested in all that's being said. You just don't have the confidence or energy to jump into the conversational fray.
Here are five tips that help me as an introvert get comfortable in new business or social settings:
- Use your analytical skills to get a sense of the group or personal dynamic before you wade into the conversation. Observe others and listen to their views, first. This will help you get comfortable in new territory and give you a chance to offer a carefully considered response.
- As an introvert, it is very important to me to feel that others find value in my ideas and am careful not to misspeak or offer information that is incorrect or may be suspect. There is nothing wrong with offering an opinion as long as it is based on careful thought.
- Silence in a conversation can be a wonderful tool, especially in a business situation. Your occasional silence gives your conversational partner(s) a chance to share information, which you can use in a well-crafted response. Gaps in conversation are often a good way for everyone to recharge their batteries.
- If you find yourself in a conversation that is dominated by one or two people, you can graciously excuse yourself. This is easily done in large social settings ("Excuse my while I refresh my drink") but is more difficult in meetings or at the dinner table. Should you be stuck sitting beside a non-stop talker, consider a neutral topic and say something like, "I'm interested in your comments about (selected topic). I have heard (outline two schools of thought), what do you think?"
By graciously taking control of the conversation, however briefly, you are heard and have a voice. It gives you a chance to get your thoughts together and offer a logical response to the rambling.
- Several colleagues of mine are introverts and yet have come to enjoy socializing time with clients whose interests are diverse and often communicate at a high level. To get ready for events, they determine who will be there and spend a little time researching topics that may come up in conversation. I am not suggesting you "cram" for an event, but rather get familiar with three or four conversational bullets on key topics. In these situations, the less you say, the better as you demonstrate your strong awareness but not necessarily deep expertise about a topic.
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