Introverts. We’re quiet with the loudest thoughts. Here are the things I struggle with every day and how I attempt to overcome them.
Introverts. Stereotypically we’re mysterious, quiet and insecure. We drown in our thoughts and stutter with our sentences. We’re more comfortable lost in a book that lost at a festival and we live by the saying “there’s more than meets the eye”. We’re misfits by default and are ok with it (mostly). Although this isn’t true for all of us as introversion sits along a spectrum coupled with diverse characteristics. In varying degrees we may struggle to live in an environment designed for extroverts to thrive. So many of us deploy survival mechanisms to keep afloat. Her are mine.
I am sharing this to be honest about my development journey, accept the things that are part of my make up and for others who are looking for ideas to thrive daily. Let me know your thoughts!
Use the morning to think aloud
I hate mornings. I’ve never been a morning person and never will. To help me get my thoughts in order I use it to talk to myself. To tell me what I need to remember, what I need to do and often to psych myself up if I have low energy or motivation. My walk to the station is 20 minutes long and by the time I’m purchasing my tickets I’m ready to address the day even if I still need a wake up coffee.
There’s something about speaking to yourself that makes you realise the significance or insignificance of the things that are on your mind. Getting these thoughts out in the open allows you to address them head on and let them go (while appearing a little crazy to others walking by — this isn’t new to me).
Answer with a meaningful response
There’s lots of research about introverts being quiet and hesitant to contribute to conversations, especially in large meetings. I remember being given training about “how to be present in the room”. It was a day of learning body language stances, responding to difficult questions on the fly, verbalising our insecurities, practicing handshakes and reviewing your sales pitch. A lot of it was sexist, chauvinist bollocks but one thing I took away from it was understanding the importance of providing a valuable response to questions, rather than striving for a large amount of talking.
Introverts are unlikely to dominate discussions. That’s ok. It’s not our nature so why force it? While we are sitting observing, our mind is speaking at full throttle. It’s our way of processing things the same way that an extrovert likes to verbalise to better understand it. So when the attention is directed to us we can often panic. You have broken our thought process. What do we say? How should I say it? What if it doesn’t come across correctly? Shit, am I hesitating? Do they know I’m hesitating? Say something before they notice!
I used to do this a lot and probably still do occasionally. To help me overcome this ‘dear in headlights’ response I do three things: (1) remember to breathe (2) avoid talking for the sake of it (3) make sure my contribution adds value.
When you spend so long thinking things through the odds are you’re more likely to provide a unique perspective that hasn’t yet been shared. You’re not trying to “win”, you’re trying to focus the conversation so you can all win. Extroverts will spend a lot of time verbalising every minute idea while you can use that time to rationalise yours. If you can be that person who refocuses the discussion others are more likely to settle and listen when you speak. So we’re not using more words just to be heard, we’re adding value instead. Everyone wins.
Stand up for others when no one else will
Standing up for someone makes my heart race and I still hate doing it. We’re more likely to avoid confrontation and demand attention so this goes against my inner coding. From a young age my parents consistently reinforced I should stand up for myself and not allow others bully me — probably because they felt I needed to believe this more than my extroverted brother. This prepared me for the eventuality that if anyone tried to belittle me I’d be armoured with a response to stop them in their tracks. Call it introverted wit. I fought with words instead of fists and it often winded my opponents. I’ve matured since then. To the relief of my mother.
As an adult I now feel obliged to stand up for the ‘little guy’ who is afraid to stand up for themselves. I see the hurt overwhelm them when they are being targeted. As an introvert you’re more sensitive to these cues and it’s understandable if they affect you. So most often than not I step in with a white flag to quietly disarm the attacker.
In a working environment: “Is everything ok?” “Yes. I’d even go further to challenge that. My understanding is….” “Shall we discuss this later? I think there’s been a miscommunication somewhere.” “That was not our intention at all…” “I understand. It’s important to consider…” “Have we got this confused? If you could talk us through…”
In a social environment: “What would you do?” “It’s easy to misjudge when…” “That may be the case…” “What is more important?” *gives the you’re being a dick, don’t be a dick look*
If it’s longer than 3 paragraphs call them instead of email or text
It’s so easy to type a long-winded message with our thoughts vomited on a page. My boss will tell you I still do this from time to time. We can write, delete, rewrite, change, spell check, leave it, go back, add more and even schedule our responses. We can include every intricate thought that has passed our mind but are they really going to read it in the way we do? Nope. It will come across as unstructured, chaotic, even anal and stressed and they will feel it’s not worth the effort trying to decode your waffle.
Speaking with them allows you to get so much more out of the conversation exchange. You hate talking so will use less words and you’ll be able to decide whether asking those pernickety questions your mind is swamped with is worth asking. It also allows them to share the things they feel are most important to them rather than just responding to your questions and priorities. Plus, you’ll feel more comfortable talking to that person every time you do it. Bonus point.
Observe and learn
We do this anyway. This is a right of passage to continue observing and learning because it’s how we operate. There’s no point rewiring the motherboard when it works perfectly! The aim is not to behave like an extrovert but to be more comfortable with behaving like you.
I do this a lot. In fact I probably do this less that I think I do ← babbling. Most people will advise to avoid babbling but I honestly believe if you’re a natural babbler and you try to go cold turkey you’ll become a mute with a higher risk of babbling when pressured to speak. (I’d love to be a mute) So I am trying to forgive my inner babbler and accept that she is part of who I am.
I’m hoping being conscious of her means she won’t bubble to the surface unexpectedly and punch my articulation in the jugular. By coexisting with her I will be able to face my babbling fears. We’ll see how this goes. The first step is to stop apologising for babbling… it’s a working progress.
Never make someone else feel uncomfortable
Introverts hate feeling uncomfortable. We often do, especially when we’re trying not to! I’d love to live in my own world 24/7 but I have bills to pay, children to raise and a partner to love so this isn’t possible. I believe in living by my own values and so I am very aware of when I and others make people feel uncomfortable. Don’t do it, it’s not nice. They won’t respect you for it and it’ll make the next encounter even more uncomfortable, making you feel worse. Notice the pattern?
Make them feel at ease. Listen. Slow your pace and…
Pretend everyone is your friend
This stems from the aged-old public speaking advice where you’re supposed to imagine everyone in the audience is reduced to their underwear and all of a sudden *poof!* you’re the world’s most confident speaker.
If you strip this idea back it’s forcing you to be more familiar with others when in reality you’re not. To me others are aliens. Extra terrestrial hostile beings that could vaporise me at any moment. Now imagine if they thought the same about you? Yes, they could feel exactly the same. Epiphany.
So how can you make them feel more comfortable? Pretend they are your friend and it becomes a casual chat. Before you know it they’ll loosen up, you’ll loosen up and it’ll be easier for a conversation to flow. Remember to breathe though. It’s important for your overall survival and red blood cell health.