Introverts and stress

An Open Letter to Extrovert Leaders: How understanding 50% of the population will improve your productivity and innovation

 

Hello, Extrovert Leaders! How are you? I’d love to meet you in person, but I seldom have the chance.

You see, I give talks on how organizations are overlooking and under-utilizing the people who are generally called introverts, whom I call “quietly brilliant.” (The term introvert is fine, even though in our society the label is too often confused with shy or neurotic.)

When I give my talks, the room is generally crowded – sometimes with standing room only – with introverts. I’m grateful for the enthusiasm but sad that I am repeatedly preaching to the choir. Introverts are grateful to have their positive attributes discussed openly, along with ways leaders can help them engage. But they often say the same thing, “The person who needs to be here isn’t. I wish my extrovert supervisor could hear this.”

So I’m asking you: why do you not come? Is it that you think you don’t need to know how to engage with us because there aren’t that many of us in the workplace? Perhaps you don’t realize introverts are over 50% of the population; this would include your employees, staff, and team members.

By the way, that includes your customers and clients, too.

Wouldn’t you like to: 

•   Turn those cool and seemingly unapproachable colleagues and teammates into warm and dedicated contributors?

•   Run meetings where EVERYONE contributes without pulling teeth?

•   Discover new sources of innovative leadership in your organization that you didn’t suspect existed?

•   Develop warm collaboration within your department and with other departments?

•   Work with resistant, deep-thinking prospects to earn their respect – and eventually their business?

•   Use rewards that really fit individual temperament – and truly motivate people?

And this knowledge and these skills aren’t limited to your professional life.

Maybe you have one of the following challenges:

•   A child who doesn’t seem motivated in the same ways you are, and you are exhausted trying to reach them.

•   Your mate sometimes retreats into a private world where you can’t seem to follow.

All of these and more are reasons to understand the neurological differences between introverts and extroverts, and to be willing to work with those differences to facilitate communication.

Here are a few starting points:

We prefer quality over quantity: “Innie’s” brains respond more strongly to external stimulation of all kinds – conversation, noise, clutter – than do “outies.” So we get overwhelmed and exhausted more easily. As a consequence, we need to retreat to recover from too many conversations and ideas.  We want meaningful conversations, not “small talk.”

We process things deeply: Information that enters the introvert’s brain is processed through more areas of the brain than for the extrovert before the introvert responds. In addition, quiet people are often storehouses – no, warehouses – of detailed information that they can pull together to give a really insightful picture of a situation.

So how do handle these differences? Here are some of the things you can do to connect and communicate:

•    Send advance signals when you want to engage an introvert

A good place to start, if you run meetings, is to have an agenda that you give out in advance (not just on the table as the meeting starts). Or you can casually give verbal advance notice, as in, “We’re meeting later today and I’d like your thoughts on ….”

•    Slow down and allow pauses in conversation 

You may expect conversation to flow quickly and easily. When there is a pause, you may be tempted to fill the silence with prompting, such as, “So what do you think?” or “Should we go ahead with this?

Curb that impulse. After you’ve fired your request, if you’re pretty sure you’re talking to one of these quiet people, take a deep breath, relax your body language, and wait for what you will feel is an interminable amount of time but is actually just as few seconds. The result can be a thoughtful, in-depth response, and can be well worth waiting for.

You can also fire off your request, leave the scene, and come back later, asking, “Do you have any further thoughts on what I said earlier?”

More reasons to motivate you to understand introversion

Introverts may constitute more than 50% of the intellectually gifted. In fact, one study indicates we may be 75% of the gifted. With people such as Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett on our team, it’s no surprise to some of us.

As a lifelong introvert, I realize introverts also need to develop skills to understand the extrovert temperament, reach out, and communicate better. It’s a two-way street on which I am dedicated to making the traffic flow better.

But I need both sides to participate to make this truly happen. Please join in the discussion if and when you have a chance. Learning how to connect and communicate with people who are different from you is a life-enriching experience, both professionally and personally.

Finally, when faced with what seems to be a non-participating employee, consider this question asked by a veteran consultant: “Did you hire them that way, or did you make them that way?”

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based acclaimed national speaker, author, and executive coach with more than 30 years of experience in speaking and training.

Author of The Confident Introvert,  and a life-long successful introvert, she believes that America is overlooking and even discouraging its intellectual treasure: the 51% of the population who are introverts, and who are highly representative of the gifted.

In addition to helping quiet people thrive in a culture that idealizes extroversion, she gives leaders the tools to manage diverse groups in the same setting, and to develop the talent that is quietly under their noses.

Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com  to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Is Introversion Main Stream at Last?

The topic of introversion has now entered the mainstream. How can I tell? This topic, which I have championed for so many years (full disclosure: I am an introvert), has now appeared in one of my favorite comic strips, and I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In the Dilbert strip of July 23, an introvert appears and utters all of the stereotypes about introverts being despairing, lonely, and avoidant of conversation. Introversion has become part of the workplace diversity conversation, and that’s a good thing. Picking up on that trend, Dilbert, which satirizes workplace behavior, has now made this contribution, and I know it’s satire; nevertheless, I seem to have lost my sense of humor.

You see, I also know that introverts, no matter how skilled or intelligent, tend to be the last-hired. I know, from studies such as that done by Ones and Dilchert (Industrial & Organizational Psych, 2009), that introverts constitute only 12% of supervisors, and that percentage decreases as you go up the managerial levels, dwindling to a scant 2% at the very top. At the same time, the presence of extreme extroverts rises to 60% at the top.

This is only natural, right? Well, no, actually introverts can make extremely fine leaders, especially for groups of people who have good ideas. The introvert leader will allow others speaking time, listen carefully, and be willing to integrate other people’s ideas into the overall scheme. How do we know this? Besides assertions by people such as Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, a study of companies and the leaders who went from being merely good to great, research studies such as the one reported by Adam Grant et al. affirms this.  

The problem? Well, the title of that research article for one thing. “Leadership Tip: Hire the Quiet Neurotic, Not the Impressive Extrovert” (Forbes Magazine, 2013). Neurotic? The opposite of extrovert is neurotic?

Bendersky & Shah (Acad. Mgmt. J. 2013) reassure us that introverts not only make good team members, but that eventually their excellent contributions are recognized over the chatter of more outspoken but sometimes less thoughtful people. I’m glad to hear this; my only objection is their title: “The Downfall of Extroverts and the Rise of Neurotics.”

Corporations are just now beginning to recognize introversion, which is based on a neurological difference, as being an appropriate and even necessary topic for inclusion in their diversity programs.

So I wonder if you could replace introverts in that comic strip with another group that is marginalized in our society and just on the edge of being understood and valued. Would it work and still be funny? I don’t know. I would welcome your reactions.

I just wish that our group, introverts, hadn’t leaped from being marginalized as “peculiar” to the mainstream with no stops in between.

_______________________________________________________________________

Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based acclaimed national speaker, author, and executive coach with more than 30 years of experience in speaking and training.

Author of The Confident Introvert,  and a life-long successful introvert, she believes that America is overlooking and even discouraging its intellectual treasure: the 51% of the population who are introverts, and who are highly representative of the gifted.

In addition to helping quiet people thrive in a culture that idealizes extroversion, she gives leaders the tools to manage diverse groups in the same setting, and to develop the talent that is quietly under their noses.

Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com  to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

 

Networking Is A Life Skill

I hear it over and over again: “I can’t network. I’m an introvert.” “I don’t know what to say.” “I don’t want to brag.” A lot of people don’t like networking, but the bulk of them seem to be introverts.

I’m an introvert, too, and I’m also an entrepreneur, having to teach myself along the way how to reach out and build that body of interested people who support and buy what I do. To make it even harder, I retired in California, moved back to Minneapolis, waited a few years, and then found I wanted to start a business in a city where I had no business contacts and only one friend (a nun).

Business coaches stymied me from the start, because they would start by saying: “First, send a warm letter to all of your friends, telling them what you’re doing and asking for their support.”

Oh. A fellow coach wailed that she only had 100 friends on her Christmas card list, and I was awed by her popularity. This was an exercise at which I never excelled, because my Christmas card list was five.

Introverts, whom I often call the “Quietly Brilliant,” are very likely to have one or two very deep friendships and a moderate number of pleasant acquaintances. This is dangerous for many reasons, among them the fact that those one or two deep relationships, whether professional or personal, can disappear in a wink of an eye, for such reasons as:

  • You lose your job
  • Your company moves and you don’t
  • Your supportive boss – who really liked you – leaves
  • Divorce – and your best friend disappears
  • Marriage (of a friend who disappears into a different social circle)
  • Your BFF is transferred or moves
  • Death of a close friend or loved one
  • You move! As I did.

And you are stricken, dealing with loss, and suddenly finding that you need to find some way to search for and find a replacement for that Very Important Person. Where do you go? How do you do it?

If you don’t have a plan and haven’t been practicing how to connect with others, the poorest time to start networking is when you are dealing with loss. So start practicing now.

Here’s my starting point for introverts who are “socially cautious”:

Step 1: Find friendly people with whom to connect. 
We introverts tend to look for reasons why it would be uncomfortable or even dangerous to approach other people. (Years of being told we’re too quiet, we should get out more, we should speak up, etc., have made us wary of other people and their potential disapproval and left us with the idea that we are somehow odd and unique. In fact, we’re over 50% of the population.)

Instead, try this simple exercise for a week or so: Suspend your sense of uniqueness and look for similarities between yourself and others. If they’re similar to you, how can they be so unapproachable?

For example, I am not a sports fan. Repeat, just N O T A S P O R T S fan. But because I was a ballet dancer, I can relate to how passionate someone can become about physical performance and competition. As I was growing up, I read every history book about ballet, and followed the careers of prominent dancers, so I can relate to how concerned someone can become about athletes, teams, their history and their current challenges. Therefore, I have a basis for conversation with someone I might have dismissed as too different. I can empathize with the thought of what an injury does to peak performance (of oneself or of an idol), how draining and humiliating defeat in an athletic arena can feel, and so on.

We don’t see a lot of friendly people out there because we haven’t believed it. We tend to think we are unique. But they are out there, just as anxious as we are, and wanting to share their enthusiasms but don’t, perhaps believing no one will understand.

Connecting personally with others is an important first step to setting up business connections that last.

Step 2: Reach out and empathize. Make a simple comment, not too personal but delivered with a smile, that shows you have some idea of what the other person is going through. For the clerk in a store: “It must be tiring lifting and scanning all those items every day.” For the deliveryman, “What a lovely day for an outdoor job,” or “This weather must really make your job harder.” Short contacts, no further interaction required (although you’ll be surprised at how often it triggers conversation).

Practice in these low-risk situations and it will become easier in situations where you really need to meet new people.

Step 3: Spread your thanks around as if they were fertilizer (because they are). Ditto for compliments.

Park the perfectionism you probably have as an introvert: keep it for serious stuff, such as your income tax return, operating heavy equipment, or doing brain surgery. It doesn’t belong in human relationships. Be forgiving and empathize with little mistakes if they are not too serious.

Thank the person who stops to hold the door open for you, pauses to let you enter a line of traffic, the clerk who discovers you didn’t take your small change or points out an even greater bargain than what you have selected, the person who asks about your recent health issue – all of these people deserve thanks for their consideration.

Try thanking a co-worker who completes a routine job for which he or she is paid. You may believe it’s simply their duty, but anyone can become fatigued doing their duty day after day and being taken for granted.

Interestingly enough, being thankful openly makes it easier to point out those little mistakes others have made. You are beginning to develop “social capital.”

These are the preliminary steps to becoming a socially confident networker; there are many more. But if you can’t recognize how important this process is, and how easy it is, once you know the right steps, you will never start.

With networking, you can develop social capital, a bank account of good will on which you can draw, but into which you must make deposits. Social capital can bring you:

  • Help and moral support when you need it.
  • Increased inter- & intra-departmental collaboration at work.
  • New business.
  • A promotion or new job.
  • Opportunities – more than you ever dreamed of in more areas than you now recognize.
  • …not to mention the increased warmth and ease you will feel in numerous social settings.

Networking is something we do – or don’t do – all day long. When you discover that not networking takes at least as much energy as actually doing it (not knowing where to go for help or resources, dealing with anxiety over replacing a loss, and more) you are on the path to an expanded future. Because networking is a journey, not an action.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Social Confidence and “Extrovert Skills”

“I used my extrovert skills.” “I had to learn some extrovert skills.” “Oh, well, I don’t have extrovert skills.” I hear these phrases all the time – and they drive me crazy.

When did the ability to be socially graceful or to display good manners become the sole province of one group of people, one temperament?


Good social behavior is within the reach of every human being, no matter how quiet or even shy you may be. As an introvert, you may need to protect yourself from too much stimulation, but you shouldn’t protect yourself from connecting with others.

The problem, many introverts assure me, is that it takes too much energy to relate to others. Well, anything you don’t know how to do well takes more effort and involves more stress. Swimming, running, public speaking, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey … the list is endless.

Here are a few simple reminders:

When meeting other people, look them in the eye at the same time you shake hands. (Don’t extend your hand and then glance over the other person’s shoulder as you say hello.) Use their name, too. According to Dale Carnegie, nothing is sweeter than the sound of your own name.

Give the other person a chance to shine. Even if you’re networking, don’t focus so hard on your elevator speech that you fail to draw out information about the other person. Listen intently and be appreciative. (This is an especially good tip if you don’t think you’re good at conversation. You don’t have to be. Become a great listener and you’ll get a reputation as a great conversationalist.)

Throw some positive bouquets. For example, we all err on the side of thinking that someone needs to do something extraordinary to be worthy of thanks or even praise, yet someone who consistently performs or behaves well, time after time, needs to be told how important this is in order to stay motivated.

These small affirmations can create long-lasting bonds. People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you make them feel.

And protecting yourself from social interaction? A bad idea. According to a joint report from Carnegie Institute, Harvard University, and Stanford Research Institute, only 15% of success is due to your technical skills. A whopping 85% of your success is due to social skills! You spend years of hard work and tons of money acquiring degrees and expertise, and your only return is 15%? Well, no, employers tell me that those technical skills will insure that you keep the job; but the social skills are what get you in the door so that your expertise can be appreciated. Those social skills are well worth developing.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Business Coaching and Introverts

When you hire a business coach and develop a program or product, the first marketing instructions you get will probably be something like this: “Contact your friends, send them a warm letter, offer them your services or product, and ask them if they know people who would be interested.” Bingo! You’re on your way with a marketing list, sure to grow as your friends enthusiastically spread the word.

Oh.

A typical introvert, I have spent my life making a few very deep friendships. Not for me the inclusion in the circle of giggling young women who took coffee breaks and lunch together every day, celebrating life events. When they were discussing a shower for one of their members, I was drinking coffee and reading a book. Their lunchtime group shopping tours were a far cry from my lunchtime exploratory (and solitary) walks.

I’ve had four deep friendships in my life. Let’s see, there was Polly, whom I met in the first grade. As two brown-haired, pig-tailed petite girls in a sea of blonde Scandinavians, we bonded instantly. We’re still friends, decades later, despite a 40-year hiatus when we moved apart, a gap that was bridged instantly when we met again.

Then there was an adventurous, brilliant but troubled girl in junior high school, whom I had to let go out of my life because I sensed her habit of living on the edge would lead me into trouble and deflect me from my path. And finally, the vibrant, charismatic friend of my middle years who suffered a head and brain injury, and died this year, after years of suffering, leaving me bereft.

And of course, hosts of acquaintances and colleagues, with whom I exchanged brief but pleasant conversations over the years.

Uh-oh. Not an auspicious start to my marketing list.

Luckily, there was the fourth: a serene and wise introvert who had early on mastered the art of being connected to a wide variety of supportive people while maintaining her privacy and serenity.

Studying her and listening to her brought about profound changes in my life and techniques I now share with others.

Here is some of the wisdom I have gathered:

Be a Person of Interest, not a Person of Mystery

People are curious; they want to know something about people around them in order to feel safe, to know how to respond and what to say and do – or not say or do. In short, they need to know, like and trust you (essential for business), but in order to do that they need to flesh out that vague outline of you that you may be presenting to them. If they have no idea who you are, what you stand for, and what delights you or not, they will make something up. In fact, they will write a whole life story for you that would astound you if you knew it. And you probably won’t like it.

I listen to introverts, I know the complaints – “Why do they want to know what I did over the weekend? It’s nobody’s business but my own.” And I get it; I have spent many a weekend alone, happily listening to music, reading, gardening, reluctant to disclose that to anyone in a world that deems that solo behavior is peculiar.

But I also know that you risk being thought of as “aloof,” “snobbish,” or even ”arrogant.”

So take a deep breath and learn to say something like, “I had a great time relaxing, getting caught up, and even finding time to read. How about you?” Over to the other person, who probably really wanted to talk about what he or she did, anyway. Use your great listening skills to convince people that you are a great conversationalist.

Find something to connect with potentially in everyone you meet

While I (and many introverts, which I gather from reading internet forums) was looking at other people to see what wasn’t going to work here, and what I could do to protect myself, my friend is always seeking something to which she can relate. It isn’t always there and she has been known to quietly but diplomatically dismiss people from her life, but she often finds it. Her reward? A large group of very different people who complement different aspects of her personality and love her to pieces because she has recognized some unique essence in them.

Learn to set boundaries

Avoiding other people completely sets a huge boundary around yourself but it doesn’t help you navigate the complexities of actually being in a relationship with someone without being swallowed up or drawn into activities you don’t enjoy. We use avoidance to protect ourselves from the danger of – of what? Engaging in an activity you find distasteful? Being bored to death?

Asking for what you want and diplomatically turning down what you don’t want are communication tools everyone needs in order to be liked and trusted and to feel safe.

These are just a few of the simple changes introverts can make to ramp up their personal support group without becoming someone they imagine they wouldn’t like.

In the words of an incredibly successful sales person I met a few years ago, Never try to make a sale. Just try to make a friend.

How about you? Do you have a group of people who are your cheerleaders? Or do you just have a large group of casual acquaintances who barely think of you when you are not present?

It’s never too late to start enlarging your support group and reaping the personal and professional rewards. Tell me some of the skills you, as an introvert, have learned to develop a strong support network.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Unintended Consequences of Being an Introvert

As more and more attention is being paid to introversion, thanks to Susan Cain and her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” the world is slowly becoming aware of introvert value and, what’s better, willing to make some adjustments to accommodate introverts and recognize our ability to make valuable contributions. For example, Steelcase, an international company providing “office furnishing solutions,” has designed a special “Susan Cain room”: a soundproofed room to which an employee can retreat for respite from the stimulus overload of a busy office.

Yes, being quiet can be a good thing: during quiet times we can collect information carefully, digest it, ponder it, and come up with innovative solutions. All of these are important contributions to organizations, productivity, innovation, and our own (I’m an introvert, too) sense of pride.

We introverts can and should be proud of our valuable contributions. However, in order to be truly effective, we need to manage how we contribute. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

Pitfall #1: Being seen as “slow” or “uninvolved”

Listening carefully in a meeting or group, you test a new, innovative idea that just sprang into your head on one or two people near to you in a low voice. Ouch! The first person to speak up with the new idea gets the credit – and it isn’t you.

I can’t think how many times I have had a clever thought and handled it just like that – only to have that idea fed back to me later as fresh and brilliant – and attributed to someone else.

We may think we’re thoughtful and cautious; others may think we’re just slow on coming up with solutions.

The fix: Turn “slow” or “passive” into “thoughtful” and “careful”

Be very careful with whom you test your new ideas. The friendly sounding board you are using might not be acting in your best interests. Or, a true but bolder friend may verbalize what you shared, thinking to help your idea gain visibility. The result is the same: you’re not given the credit.

If you are self-conscious about speaking up in a group, my first advice would be, “Get over it,” but I know too well that “getting over it” is a slow process of gaining confidence in a group setting. So, another ploy is to say, “I may have some further thoughts on this, and I’d like to get back to you a little later,” or even, “I’d like to take a little time to put my thoughts down on paper.”

Teach people around you (yes, you can do this) to recognize that you are a deep thinker who provides great value when you don’t shoot from the hip.

Pitfall #2: Being seen as “sneaky”

While listening, you start to have disquieting feelings that there’s something wrong with what’s being discussed, but you’re not quite sure if you’re right and you’re really not ready to commit yourself to providing your criticism.


When we do this, we may think we’re being diplomatic and careful, and we may in fact be just that. But if we mention our thoughts later to another group member, who speaks to another … etc., etc. … we can quickly develop a reputation as “sneaky” or, at best, “cowardly.”

The fix:

Your initial silence has been interpreted as agreement; so your later criticism seems like betrayal.  

Signal your discomfort upfront by saying, “I think this needs a little more thought/research, and I’d like to get back to you with my comments.”

If, after careful thought, you decide there is no real objection to what has been suggested, you can always say, “I’ve given this considerable thought/checked the facts carefully, and I think we should go ahead.”

The biggest fix:

Learn to be proud of your introversion.

Let others around you, including managers, know that you like to think deeply about topics and can provide greater value if you feel free to take the time to do just that.  

You don’t have to be apologetic. The cultural tide is on your side; people are becoming aware that all good ideas do not come from the people who speak up quickly and the most. People are finally learning that the introvert’s great ideas are well worth waiting for.

Yes, it’s a good time to be an introvert in America.

_______________________________________________________________________

Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Introversion, Gut Feelings, and Trust

Maybe – just maybe – your gut-level feeling that you shouldn’t be doing something is right. But if you’re an introvert, you’ve probably had a lifetime of being told to ignore your feelings, and urged to act just the opposite.

Want to stay home and read? “What’s the matter with you, anyway?” It’s implied that you’re neurotic or even antisocial. Want to leave a party before it ends? “You’re a party-pooper.” Find large groups overwhelming? “Just get out there and have fun (said with incredulity)!” (Even though the event gives you a headache or even nausea.) Enjoying being quiet and listening when in a group? “You’re shy, aren’t you?” a shaming label if ever there was one.

We end up forcing ourselves to do things that aren’t bringing us any pleasure, and somehow berating ourselves for the demoralizing experiences we endure. Then we crawl back into our little cave.

It’s no wonder we have never learned to trust our feelings as guides to what will lead to success and happiness.

There is a caveat here: if you are an introvert, and haven’t had good guidance in developing your introversion in a confident way, your reluctance to participate in a given event may not be the result of intuition (“This isn’t for me”) but the result of anxiety, because you haven’t learned the social skills to cope successfully with such events.

How do you tell the difference between intuition and unwarranted, self-defeating anxiety?

The anxiety over not knowing what to do or say is simply a lack of social skills, common to many introverts who have learned to shrink away from social interaction. The self-consciousness we develop from feeling out of step with society, plus our increasing lack of practice in social skills are a part of what I call “introvert baggage,” not a necessary part of introversion, which merely calls us to manage our energy effectively.

Gaining confident social skills is simply a matter of finding good models, not the bright, energetic center-of-attention model, but the quiet, well-mannered helps-other-people-feel-comfortable model.

You can find these models through observation, reading (try an etiquette book), or coaching.
Simply acquiring social skills doesn’t mean you must get out there and go on a social binge. It does mean that you are able to do so when it’s important to you: to network, support friends, etc.

Why is socializing important? Nobody gets through a successful life alone. We all need a confidantes, support systems, and networks. If we are in business, and most of us working people are in some way or another, we need to be able to connect meaningfully with people who see value in our contributions.

It can be painful, however, and here’s where self-knowledge and your intuition can be an excellent guide.

Business coaches often urge me, and others, to go to every possible networking meeting in order to meet people who somehow, some time, might be able to help make our businesses go forward.

I reflected on this, and it occurred to me that this might be the equivalent of urging Kate Middleton to attend every possible party in England in the hopes that she would someday meet someone who could possibly introduce her to the future King of England. (Cue cynical laughter here.)

How do you know when it’s right to go? First, take some time to sit quietly with your wisdom and get very clear on what you want out of life. Banish the “shoulds” of society. Mentally practice your social skills: greeting people, appreciating them. Stop worrying about how good things are going to happen. Convince yourself that they can, and you are worthy.

Then, take a chance on going out somewhere, such as a meeting or a party, to check whether or not it’s in line with your vision. At the first sign of discomfort, ask yourself if it’s your lack of skill, or if there is really something going on here that is counter to your best interests.

If you’re still a little unclear, you sometimes need to allow a given event a second chance before you are clear as to whether you are responding to your intuition or simply to your “introvert baggage.” But don’t be afraid to draw yourself up proudly and say to yourself, “This simply isn’t for me. I will never be appreciated here for who I truly am.” Thank the host, hostess, or event organizer as you leave.

With enough Introvert Pride (yes, you can develop that), you can even say, as I have sometimes done at a pleasant event at which I’ve had enough, “I’m not leaving because I don’t like your event. I am an introvert, and I have had enough stimulation for one evening. Thank you very much.”

Some time ago, I was due to attend a networking meeting, but felt reluctant to do so. I hadn’t really gotten any meaningful connections at this group; furthermore, I often left feeling vaguely depressed, somehow assuming that there was something wrong with me.

But taking a furlough from life, I concentrated on who I was and what I wanted, no matter how crazy it sounded. Faced with yet another meeting of this group, I told myself bravely that I didn’t have to do that anymore – it was a go-nowhere situation for me. I fought back the voices of previous coaches who scolded me for being too passive.

So I skipped this next meeting, stayed home, and started looking at the internet for groups that might be more aligned with my interests. I found one quickly (my gut said “yes”), attended it the next day, was welcomed, connected immediately with interesting people, and set up a great relationship/partnership with two of the members.

These relationships and partnerships seem to flow into life easily, once you know who you are, and can handle it.

Until you’ve aligned your actions with your gut, you don’t know how really easy and sweet life can be.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Transforming your year

Everyone tells you that you must have a clear vision of where you want to go and who you want to be. Not everyone tells you exactly how – and how not – to get to that vision.

For example, suppose you want a life in which you are well paid and appreciated for your work. You want warm relationships and the time to pursue them.

But suppose your nagging belief is that it’s simply not possible. After all, you’ve spent years piling up evidence to tell you that.

So you sit down, meditate, and envision in exact detail what you want. You then open your eyes and everything is still the same.

Vision isn’t enough

A fellow coach tells the story of a woman to whom he was talking. She had a serious weight problem, and he asked her what she was doing to challenge it. She replied that she sat on her sofa every day for thirty minutes and visualized herself losing weight.


That, of course, was the problem. Vision should be the carrot that draws you forward, taking the steps necessary to reach that dream. It should not be a dream in which you submerge yourself in fantasy, waiting for things to happen.

It’s not enough to dream; you must walk the walk.

So you say, “OK, I’ve tried that, and I’m exhausted. I mapped out all the steps, followed them carefully, and it still didn’t work.” Maybe that was the problem.

Throw away the list

One of the reasons we fall into despair over the seeming impossibility of meeting our vision is that we believe we have walked the path leading to that vision – perhaps many times – yet we’ve never reached that Promised Land.

What probably happened was this: you made a list of the logical (to you) steps you needed to take to get there.  

You started to follow those steps. You brushed aside distractions.

At some point, you were blocked, or exhausted, or rejected, or disheartened. You lost your dream.

It’s a little like taking a path that’s edged with a tall, thorny hedge. That hedge gets in the way, and you can’t even see the fields on either side of the path, fields filled with blooming flowers and sparkling brooks. All you can see is the rocky path ahead and the thorny hedge walling you in.

Maybe some of those distractions were not actually wrong paths at all, but alternate, pleasanter, and faster ways to get to where you want to be.

So don’t make that rigid plan. An inspiring vision opens you up to all the possibilities in your environment that you haven’t seen before.

Try this exercise that I like to do with clients: what do you see here?

 OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE

The way in which you break this phrase up into separate words is a strong indication of your current mindset. What do you see?*

Truly creative people don’t use lists:  they pay a lot of attention to their vision and notice everything in the present that confirms its reality.

Pay attention to your emotions: honor them, and recognize they are just temporary, like sudden summer storms that appear, rage, and then disappear, leaving a clear sky and sun.

Despair happens to everyone, every now and then. The problem is, when it hits, we picture ourselves sunk in a never-ending sea of despair. It’s such a heavy feeling that it forces us to sit down and stop working in order to support it.

Pay attention to when despair hits: for me, it’s about 4 p.m. and I have learned that my energy level is simply low at that hour, so I turn temporarily away from doing anything productive to reach my dream.

 Here are two despair-chasing phrases I use all the time:

There is a solution. I just can’t see it right now.
        and
I can’t handle this right now. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.
 
Angry at feeling rejected or blocked? Use your anger as energy; turn it into determination to succeed, then look around you for another path that isn’t blocked.

Unload the baggage, those memories of past setbacks, and load your mind with warm, successful memories. Collect every scrap of evidence you can that records your progress through life – skills mastered, certificates gained, warm notes telling you how important you are to others, and go over them every night just before bedtime.

It’s really all about getting out of your own way.  

I hope you love these quotes from Tut, The Universe, as much as I do:

“Rarely are the first steps in a journey anything like the final ones, either in direction, pace, or grace.“

“Simply stand aside, let spirit emerge, have no doubt, and your wings will appear.”

*  “Opportunity is nowhere” or “Opportunity is now here”

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

The Holiday Time and Energy Bandits

Time and energy bandits are habits and thought processes that can suck you dry, leaving you exhausted and harried.

One of these bandits, which particularly rears its head at the holiday season, is perfectionism.

Now perfectionism is a wonderful trait – in its place. Some of the places where it is advisable to practice perfectionism include brain surgery (or any kind of surgery), pharmacy, air traffic control, operation of any kind of heavy equipment, including motor vehicles, or any other activity that seriously threatens the health and safety of living things.

But true perfectionists extend this way of thinking and behaving far beyond the boundaries of necessity. Relationships, child-rearing, weddings, and holidays are areas where the whole experience would be better for everyone if the perfectionist could just back off.

Christmas can include a hurricane search for exactly the right gift, which is unavailable due to its popularity, or the ultimate holiday decorations and meal, suitable for a photograph on a magazine cover.

“But I’d be letting people down if I didn’t do it,” wailed one of my clients. “Really?” I said. “Have you asked them?” Turns out her family members were delighted to be asked. They hated her frantic search for perfection.

How to dial down your perfectionistic tendencies? Make a list of all the areas in your life where it is necessary for you to be a perfectionist (see discussion above). Then make a list of all the areas where is merely “desirable,” including filling out income tax returns, making travel reservations, dealing inadequately with customers or clients. Failure to be perfect here can result in spending money or in wasting time, but it is not life-threatening.  

What’s left after the “necessary” and “desirable” areas are the gray areas: being concerned about how you dress, how your home looks, whether you have said something foolish, made a mistake, or somehow displayed your ignorance.

In this context, perfectionism is NOT about setting high expectations or being successful in your endeavors. It is about being concerned about making mistakes and about worrying about what others think. Perfectionism in this arena robs you of joy, of creativity, and of authentic relationships.

Think of it this way – persistent perfectionism is stress, and persistent stress is life-threatening. Any event that you are willing to shorten your life for by having anxiety had better be an equally life-threatening event. Are dust bunnies, disarranged hair, or verbal mistakes really worth your life?

Turn the lights down low (hides the dust bunnies), sit back, and smile a lot. Forgive yourself for small mistakes and forgive others around you for the same. Trust me – you’ll be more popular – relaxed – than you ever thought possible.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Introvert Nervousness – Friend or Foe?

“I’m now able to give a talk in public, but I’m still nervous. I guess I won’t ever get over it.” The speaker was a woman in one of my seminars, and the topic was introversion and public speaking. Her assumption was that because she was an introvert, nervousness was always there, ready to undermine her performance and her confidence, and she would never be free of that awful feeling. 


After she spoke, I reflected that, years ago, I returned to dance after taking a few years off to go to college. At my initial return performance, I was overwhelmed by fear that I would fail miserably and embarrassingly. As my partner and I got into the opening pose just before the curtain went up, I was dismayed to find that his hand, which I was holding, was shaking badly. Just before the curtain rose, he said to me quickly, “Remember, this is energy. Use it!”

 

The performance was brilliant.

 

Good – really good – performers have always known that the little thrill of anxiety they experience before a performance actually enhances what they do; to be completely calm is to become a little dull. That nervousness can produce a number of positive changes, including increased mental clarity, energy, and enthusiasm.

 

Recent research by Crum and Salovey (2013)* disclosed that the belief that stress is debilitating will undermine performance, confidence, and health, too. 

 

So would simply switching that mindset to one that tells you that nervousness will enhance your performance make all the difference in the world? Not necessarily, because first it is important to rehearse your performance thoroughly, so thoroughly that you have a set of well-learned skills on which to fall back; think of it as being on a kind of automatic pilot.

 

Then, as the performance unrolls, you can hear that little voice inside saying, “I think I can. I KNOW I can.”

 

Repeatedly performing the same skills under stress while believing in the performance-enhancing value of stress leads to better performance, increased confidence, and a greater overall sense of well-being.

 

And, by the way, nervousness over public speaking or any other kind of performance is not the exclusive experience of introverts; extroverts can feel it, too. Introverts sometimes fall into the trap of believing what they hear so much from society, that introversion is a kind of defect. 

 

No, pretty much everyone has the same experiences when it comes to something like public speaking. The same rules apply: learn, practice, tell yourself nervousness is an advantage – and grow.

*Crum, A., Salovey, P. & Achor, S. (2013).  Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

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