Anne’s story: I remember it so well. The meeting took place more than 20 years ago, but it’s colored by that emotional resonance that makes distant events feel like they just occurred.
I had started my first business a year before that National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) meeting in the Chicago Loop. I knew it was time to start networking, to meet other business owners. There was so much to learn – about sales, about the kinds of business services I needed, and about how to run a successful business. I thought that getting together with other women who were also business owners might be easier for me since I had never been to such an event.
By the time I walked in, dozens of women were already gathered. This is my perception of that first meeting: Everyone was dressed like a Fortune 500 executive. Everyone had obviously just freshened their flawless makeup. And, of course, everyone was already fully engaged in a group, talking and laughing. I felt like a donkey wandering into a stable of Arabian stallions.
Believe it or not, I joined NAWBO that evening and I kept going to the monthly meetings. For the first several months, I had to steel myself to walk into that room filled with so many perfect specimens of the female business world. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t the lone outsider. There was always someone new or someone who, like me, braved a couple of evenings each month to make and keep connections for her business. I met women at NAWBO who I did business with for years. It got easier.
Bob has had similar experiences. We both tend more toward the introverted end of the introversion/extroversion continuum. During a seven-hour drive last year, we listened together to the audiobook version of Susan Cain’s 2012 book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” One of the facts Susan reported surprised us. Depending on how you measure, one-third to one-half of our population is introverted. We assumed the number was much smaller – but then we thought about all of the times people told us they were surprised that we considered ourselves to be introverts.
Cain wrote an entire chapter about what she calls pseudo-extroversion: people who appear more extroverted in areas of their lives that demand they show up socially, such as working with people in an office, at conferences, or networking events. That brought Anne back to her NAWBO experiences. By the end of that first year, she looked more extroverted in the group. The more comfortable we are, the more extroverted we appear.
Through the years, we’ve learned skills that allow us to feel more comfortable and to reach out to others who could use a bit of comfort in large gatherings with new people. One really good conversation is worth more than 100 business cards. And yet, we still require a good bit of quiet time after such events because introverts expend so much energy just being in social situations, even when they’re enjoyable and productive.
We’d like to offer our fellow business friends a few tips to help make your business environment work better for the introverts in your company so they can work better for you:
• In meetings, get thoughts and input from everyone, not just those who tend to speak first, loudest, or most often. Introverts need time to think. Sending an agenda in advance allows them to gather information and ideas.
• When you’re facilitating a larger group, have people write down their answers to important questions before they start talking in groups. This allows introverts to explore their thoughts without the overwhelming energy of so many people talking.
• Design a mix of open/social spaces along with private/solo spaces for people to do different types of work. A smaller, more intimate space often allows introverts more thinking space for one-to-one conversations or smaller meetings.
• Have high expectations of your introverts: assume that everyone has at least one superpower. Help people find and develop their powers, and you’ll reap the benefits.
• Anne Ward and Bob Sandidge, CreativeCore Media in Algonquin, are marketing, communication, management and training consultants who help small business and non-profits overcome the marketing and motivational myths that are keeping them and their businesses from unbounded success. AnneBob@CreativeCore.com – www.NLPeople.com.