Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Week of Living Introvert

There is much in the news lately about introverts and extroverts.  It seems that people on either side often look down on those on the other end of the spectrum.  Extroverts do not understand the issue, as they like people and crowds.  Introverts feel our society unfairly celebrates the extrovert.

Susan Cain's best selling book, Quiet, has gotten a lot of attention, as has her TED talk.  She is smart, and I read the book with much interest.  It is well written and full of understandable research.  But a bit snarky.  As an extrovert her examples of the "Culture of Personality" (of which I do not disagree with her points) is clearly written in a way to subtlety make introverts feel better while kicking the extroverts in the shin.  That said, I am happy to have read the book, as it has helped me better grasp this issue.

I have been presenting on the topic of business relationships for several years, and I have always contended that introverts are better at networking if they really understood what it was to network.  I do not have Cain's academic research - but after meeting close to ten of thousand people at business events over the years I have observed how folks interact.

While teaching a staff development class on "Connecting People in a Social Media Crazy World" a participant shared with me how much pain it causes her to go to business events.  Since I find them naturally fun, I spent time with this woman trying to understand.  In the end, I realize that no matter who we are, it is hard to push out of our comfort zone.

Thus I was inspired to spend a work week living as an introvert.  I challenged myself behave counter to my natural extrovert manner.  The purpose was to see what it is like to be asked to be something that is your default demeanor.  I know that some of my decisions were "stereotypical", and the whole experiment was not perfect, but I discovered a fresh perspective and am hopefully more empathetic towards others who find the extroverted world harder to navigate.

Day 1.  Monday.

I started off by scanning my social media accounts.  A friend said something interesting and I immediately hit the "like" button.  But should I have done that?  To instantly like his post lets him know I am reading it and possibly engages this person and others.  Certainly it draws attention.  It was only 7:00 AM and I wondered if I have already failed in my attempt to live more like an introvert.  I decided to close out social media and read a book for a half hour.

Later I had to meet with a coaching client.  I decided while working with a paying client I should not be involved in an experiment, thus I behaved in my normal ways.

Day 2.  Tuesday.

I decided to not post on Twitter or Facebook during this time, other than Birthday wishes.  But I found that I naturally want to click the "like" button as a way to show support for things others share.  But I figured many introverts would not do that, so I resisted the urge.  (What do you think?  Do introverts hit the "like" button less than extroverts?).  I did comment on a thread on the National Speakers Association Facebook page, but was not sure an introvert would have jumped into the conversation (old habits die hard).

I had planned to attend a MeetUp Happy Hour, but at the end of the day I was very tired.  It was a group of 100% strangers and normally I would have enjoyed meeting new people, but I decided not to attend.  Instead I chose a quiet night at home reading and watching TV with my family.

Day 3.  Wednesday.

I was on a panel for a meeting of the Austin Chapter of the National Speakers Association. I worked on being a little less "out front" as I normally might be while on a panel.  I went to the table and ate my breakfast while others were networking.  Interestingly, nobody comes and talks to the person eating alone.  Once the panel started I tried to let my fellow panelists answer first on each question.

Later I went to lunch alone and read my book in the corner of the restaurant.  I put my ear-buds in, although I was not listening to music.  I have found that people leave you alone when you have head-phones on and are not making eye contact.

Spent the night at home finishing some work and hanging out with the family.

Day 4.  Thursday.

Started the day at the "Social Media Breakfast".  I kept asking myself "W.W.I.D.?" (What would and introvert do?).  I arrived and talked to some people I knew, then sat alone at a table.  Interestingly nobody I did not already know came and spoke with me (I usually would start conversations with others).  Eventually a couple of folks I know well joined me at the table.  The experience made me appreciate extroverts who will come up and talk.... but I wonder if introverts hate that as much as I enjoyed it?

I did Tweet out a bit at this meeting... as it was "The Social Media Breakfast".

I worked from home the rest of the day.  I had a lot to do, but I usually enjoy the busy flow of people walking past when I work at a Starbucks.  Not this day.

Day 5.  Friday.

I had breakfast with a friend who is a very big and bold personality.  I decided this was not the time to be introverted.

Later that day I attended a high school football game (my daughter is on the dance team).  I do not know many of the other parents, and did not attempt to talk to strangers.  I sat close to my wife and watched the game.


I am happy that I spent this week living more as an introvert.  I discovered that it is not easy to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and thus understand the difficulties that introverts face when being more social at business events than they may prefer.  The experience of the "Week of Living Introvert" is already finding its way into my presentations and is sparking some good discussion with the audiences.

Have A Great Day

thom singer


Unknown said...

Friday morning was not the time to be an introvert. :)

Leah said...

I mentioned it on Twitter, but social media is a place where Introverts thrive.

I think a better way to feel how exhausting it can be would be to set your alarm 15 minutes earlier every day for a week. If your normal wake-up time is 7:00am, then Monday would be 6:45am, Tuesday at 6:30, Wednesday at 6:15 and so on. No naps during the day and no going to bed early.

After a few days of that, read Where the Red Fern Grows or whatever your book/movie that always makes you cry. Then go catch up on your sleep.

When I've had too many days of being ON, I am physically and mentally exhausted. Tonight I'm coming out of the second straight day of presentation training (I'm the student) and I'm ready for bed at 8:30 PM.

I do applaud your effort to find out what it's like to be us.

thomsinger said...

I have received a few comments on Twitter and Google plus about my experiment. Most introverts agree with Leah that I did not go far enough, but applaud my effort to step out of my own comfort zone. But for some it is more than discomfort.

Several also pointed out that pulling back on social media activities was not necessarily the right thing... that social media can be a great way for introverts to engage. Hmmmm.... good point.

I am happy I did this, as the conversations I am having are expanding my understanding.