social interaction

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.

The “Sliding Scale” of Introversion-Extroversion

After my talks, people often come up to me and say, “I used to be an introvert – but I got over it,” or, “I’m not sure; sometimes I think I’m one thing and sometimes the other. Can you be both?”

Actually, you can be both, changing from one situation to another, or changing over time from one to the other, then sliding back. That’s why I call the introversion-extroversion dimension a sliding scale.

Social psychologists have known for decades that surrounding circumstances can heavily influence personality. Personality tests may claim (or would have you assume) that once you have taken the test and been given a label, you are defined for life. It doesn’t work that way. A personality test cannot necessarily project what you will be in all other situations, past and future.

Although there are some known neurological differences between introverts and extroverts, the best-known (and possibly the defining) feature has to do with how much stimulation we can tolerate at a given time. Conversation, loud music, clutter, hustle and bustle – introverts tend to find too much stimulation at one time exhausting and even threatening, while extroverts thrive on it and will even seek out more.

What’s just been happening in your life?

But what is “too much”? The analogy to eating is a useful one. We all have appetites, some larger than others. We have differing capacities, too, so one person’s “full up” is another person’s “just getting started.”

Just as with eating, “too much” will depend on not only your capacity but on what you have consumed in the immediate past. If you have been overloaded with stimulation recently, you may crave isolation.

Too much isolation can drive you to seek bright lights and activity – generally.

Too little stimulation can be damaging to human beings.

We are social beings – we need connection to others to thrive. Research on everybody from infants to the elderly supports the recognition that we need social connections to be healthy, physically and psychologically. Some need more than others; many a healthy, successful introvert thrives on a few, deeply-held relationships rather than being part of a large social group.

Total withdrawal from social life generally results in poorer health and depression. So why do people do it, insisting that it is a necessary part of their introversion?

How’s your health?

Here’s one reason to withdraw: Being run down, or even ill, can lead you to resist exposing yourself to too much stimulation, as can depression or grieving. Recovering from these situations can mean that you and your energy rebound.  

Unfortunately, withdrawing from society for a long period of time, as introverts sometimes do, means a lack of the social experience that helps us shape up and improve our connections, and makes the thought of interacting exhausting and terrifying. So we end up avoiding social interaction more and more, often saying, “I can’t do that because I’m an introvert.”

It’s easier when you have skills

Go to the beach in the summer and watch an enthusiastic but unskilled swimmer beating the water with both arms, sending up great plumes of spray, while his legs thrash furiously. Then watch a highly-trained swimmer glide sleekly through the water as if it was her natural environment, leaving barely a ripple.

Introverts often complain about social activities as being energy drainers, but confident introverts (those with good social skills) find that they have plenty of energy for necessary and even enjoyable social encounters. Why? Because any activity for which you have skill takes less energy.

Even house-cleaning is easier when you know how to do it and have the right skills and tools. The same is true of social situations.

Not being socially skilled is an energy-drainer, but it is an unnecessary one. Anyone can learn to connect and communicate well with others; being an introvert simply means you choose the times when you do this.

Confident introverts don’t avoid social situations. They just make wise choices.

Watch for my upcoming course, Social Success Skills for Quiet People, giving you the tools you need to operate effectively – and happily – in professional and personal areas, without becoming someone you don’t like!

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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.

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.

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