I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was in my 5th grade Science class when I asked my teacher a question. She thanked me for my inquiry and began answering it for the class. While she dove into her boring diatribe, I turned around and began chatting with my classmate.
Then it happened. She called me out! “Adria, it is rude for you to ask a question and not bother to listen for the answer”. GASP! I could’ve crawled under my desk. That’s when it all began – my introversion. Never again would I speak in front of more than a few good friends (forget about strangers).
Fast-forward a few years…Being a Developer in the 2000’s was perfect for me. I got to sit under my headphones and code the day away, interacting with no one. SCORE! After a few years, I became a manager in my small company. But my introversion didn’t manifest itself at that time since I was still working with a small group of folks, friends really, that I’ve known for years – no issues speaking in front of that tiny, amiable group! It actually wasn’t until I switched companies that I began to notice some challenges creep in – not too bad since I joined as a Sr. Test Engineer and made friends before moving back up to a Management position. Once again, I was able to lean on my friendships and was only mildly uncomfortable when speaking in front of them and others. But then, I switched companies again. Now, I was a Senior Manager at a large corporation. I quickly found that the one thing that was expected of a Senior Manager was the same thing that I was uncomfortable doing – speaking in front of strangers. HELP.
There was considerable flailing. I was seen as a meek leader, someone without a strong point of view. I gained respect in the work that I delivered, but my quiet words often fell on deaf ears. The need to change was obvious. I began furiously researching how to overcome my short-comings and quickly – here’s what helped me:
- Over-prepare. If you are facilitating a meeting, get your agenda ready days in advance and know it backwards-and-forwards. Know who will be at the meeting, their personalities and think of worst-case scenarios so that you can be ready if things go off the rails. Take a facilitation class – I highly recommend The Effective Facilitator.
- Be early and speak first. If you will be attending a meeting, arrive early so that you can become comfortable in the environment – chat with the facilitator and attendees as they arrive. The more relaxed you are, the better.
- Change your way of thinking. This is most important, in my opinion. Society teaches us that being an introvert is a weakness. This is not true! Being an introvert is simply different than being an extrovert – and being different is totally OK. As a matter of fact, there is a need for both extroverts and introverts in Corporate America. This article highlights that, “listening, focus, making one-on-one connections, introspection and establishing safety all lead to increased transparency and communication”, values that are critical to a successful work environment.
- Find the root cause. Once I realized that the source of my introversion was a lonely incident that happened decades ago, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. There is power in knowing root cause. I encourage you to take a journey back and pin point when your introversion manifested itself. Dig in and seek to understand why this happened. Try to make sense of it. You might be surprised to find how something that happened years ago is ferociously shaping who you currently are.
Here’s another nifty article that gives some great tips on how to make us introverts more successful: http://axelrodgroup.com/tips-for-introverts-in-meetings-guest-post-by-jennifer-kahnweiler/
By no means have I conquered my fear of speaking in front of others, but that’s OK as long as I’m continuously improving in this regard. It’s all about the journey. And while I grow, I’m just as focused on retaining the strength in my introversion – not forsaking the “good” while trying to overcome the “bad”.
Any introverts out there? Share your tips and journey!
– Your self-proclaimed introvertedagilist 🙂