How to be an Introvert

Jane Austen understood the power of the quiet person. Anne Elliot, her heroine in Persuasion, sits in the background to play the piano while the extroverts dance, but the hero finally learns to appreciate her quiet depths. If you find it exhausting to be part of a noisy group, or wonder how other people manage to tell anecdote after story, making the room rock with laughter, you may be an introvert, too.  
An introvert’s picture of bliss? Dreamstime Stock Photo
As an introvert you may find reflection and calm more energising than the liveliness of social interaction. Not all introverts are the same. Andy longs for a remote island where he can think in peace while Mike thoroughly enjoys a drink with a few friends, and even loves a party – so long as he can take some time out to recharge his batteries alone later. You may be easily over-stimulated by noise or flashing lights and prefer to work in a silent room. Maybe you turn the TV off, for the peace, while your partner turns it on for the company.
Introverts make a difference
Whatever your preference, remember it’s OK to sit and think. Susan Cain, in her book, Quiet, the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, urges you to let go of your guilt. Although today’s world seems to value fast talkers and people who think on their feet, there’s a place for those who inhabit the other end of the spectrum. Einstein, Ghandi, the Dalai Lama and Warren Buffet are all introverts who have made a significant difference to the world.
Beware of over-thinking. That can be an introvert’s curse. You may love Facebook. because it gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you want to say before posting your comments. On the other hand, you may never post at all if you consider your words so carefully that you tweak them for days, until they’re no longer relevant. A would-be author can fail to get beyond writing chapter one, by spending every minute of his writing time perfecting the first 3,000 words.
How others see you
Ask an extrovert what she thinks, and you may be surprised by the way she views you. “James sits quietly through a whole meeting, then says something so profound that we all have to stop and rethink,” remarked one of James’ colleagues. Another self-avowed extrovert, Terry, said she was terrified of the introverts at work because they seemed to her to be sitting silently and judging her.
Team work
Jane, a cheerful, noisy talker, said she wished her quieter colleague, Sarah, would say something (anything) to her so they could get a dialogue going. She likes to hone her ideas aloud, while Sarah prefers to think things through and only speak when she feels she has something useful to say.
Would Jane and Sarah make a great team, or should they keep away from each other and stick with work colleagues who work in a similar way?
Does society need people from across the whole spectrum, from the wildest rock-star extrovert to the silent monk in a priory, or should quiet people make more of an effort to make themselves heard?


Three Steps To Improving the Way You Listen: key communication skills

Do you know someone who thinks they’re a great communicator but who drives you crazy? Maybe he has a fund of stories that he rolls out at every opportunity, whether you’ve heard them before or not.
Or maybe he caps every remark you make with one of his own. You know how it goes. You say, “I broke my foot,” and he says, “I did that last year and the doctor said it was the worst fracture he ever saw.”
A teenager I know started at a new school so she had to catch a different bus in the morning.The first day, she came home full of enthusiasm for a new friend.
“He’s so funny,” she said. “We just laughed all the way. I nearly fell off my seat.”
I bet you can guess how she felt after two weeks.
“I’m hoping he won’t be on the bus today,” she said. “He never shuts up and it’s all about himself.”
Yes, you may be more shy, less extrovert, more self-conscious than others: but chances are you’re a better communicator if you take the time to listen instead of talking.
Here’s how to do it in three easy steps:
1 Make sure you really understand what someone is saying to you. Ask questions to keep yourself focused on him. “What happened next?” or “Why do you think that happened?” Who/what/when/how/where/why questions are a great way to keep the conversation going.
2 Check back with him that you’ve understood. “So you didn’t enjoy the day at the sea?”
3 Watch his body language. If he’s looking down, or out of the window, he may be really upset. If he’s leaning back and smiling, things are OK. Be sensitive to his mood: his dating disaster may sound funny to you but if he’s devastated, it’s cruel to laugh.
TOP TIP You can help change  his mood if he’s miserable. Get him to look up at you and he’ll  feel a little better. We don’t say “chin up” for nothing. (Don’t say “chin up” by the way. It’s annoying. Just stand back so he looks up at you. That’s subtle.)
Got more top tips on listening? I love to hear them. Just leave a comment and spread the word.


Communication Kit: don’t jump to conclusions

My grandfather used to say, “Everyone’s mad except you and me, and sometimes you’re a bit strange”. That’s the cleaned up version, anyway.

I thought about this when I sat drinking coffee with a bunch of colleagues. I watched them and marvelled at their differences. I tried to guess what their behaviour meant.

Jane was talkative and nervous as a kitten. She laughed often and fiddled with her hair. Was she anxious and upset? Or was she excited about something so good she couldn’t wait to tell us?

Laura sat back and spoke rarely. Every comment was appropriate, and each one seemed to put a full stop to the discussion. Was she bored, or was she taking in everything she heard? Was she shy, or does she just prefer not to talk much?

Helen kept trying to pull the conversation back to the original topic. “Yes, but that’s not the point,” she said three times. Is she a control freak, or did she really want an answer to a question that mattered to her? Was it frustrating to her that we wouldn’t take her seriously?

Sarah said, “I’m sorry, am I talking too much?” the second time she spoke. Was she anxious that people won’t like her, and think her pushy, or was she passive-aggressively pointing out that others were dominating the conversation?

Imogen tapped the table with a pen, as though she couldn’t wait to be somewhere else. Was Imogen anxious and worried about something, or did she just have a tune running through her head?

The way we communicate with each other is so subtle, so full of richness and difference, and we give off constant signals about our personalities and our state of mind. Every one of us behaves differently from every one else.

So, beware of ‘mind-reading’. Most signals can mean more than one thing.

There is always more than one way to read another’s behaviour. Maybe we should hold back our criticisms of each other and look for other reasons when we see behaviour we don’t find appealing.

Often, the key to understanding can be simply finding out a little more about someone. When we’re in a group, we behave in a ‘public’ way. Before we next meet for coffee, I plan to spend a few minutes alone with at least one of my colleagues. If I want to understand her behaviour, I need to build some rapport with her, and find out what makes her tick. Maybe even start to see the world from her point of view and stop trying to read her mind.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you ever found someone’s behaviour difficult to understand? Do you sometimes get it wrong because you don’t know as much as you thought about someone? Do some people drive you mad, but you can’t put your finger on the reason? Let me know. I’d love to hear your experiences.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills: ten golden rules

Even introverts like to talk to other people sometimes, and it gets easier if you follow a few simple rules.

Mostly, we learn these rules by trial and error, sometimes called bitter experience. Boy, can the experience hurt. Ever had someone look over your shoulder to find someone more interesting while you’re talking? That’s one sign you may need to work on your skills.

Don’t despair. You too can become an expert communicator. Start with some of these tips.

• Speak more slowly. Your listener’s brain has to remember your sentences, then decode the words and grammar before he can understand your message. It takes time. Talk too fast and you’ll be misunderstood.

• Pause between phrases and sentences. Give your listener a chance to catch up and to react.

• Use short sentences. You can only hold seven things in your memory at one time. If you pack your sentences full, your listener will miss something. Say important things as simply as possible.

• Match your body language to your meaning. How often do you say, “I’m listening” to your child, while your eyes slide away to your computer screen or TV? Do you ever say “yes,” while your expression says “no”? Avoid giving mixed messages.

• Make eye contact with your listener. She finds it easier to listen to you and you make a connection: the eyes aren’t called “the windows to the soul” for nothing.

• Check your tone of voice. Sound impatient and that’s all your listener hears. He won’t notice your words: we all know now that most messages come from our non-verbal language.

• Listen to the other person. It’s so easy to plan your next sentences, forgetting to listen to the answer. Watch TV interviewers and see how often they ask a question that’s already been answered, because they forgot to listen.

• Watch for the other person’s body language. Notice his crossed arms or when he leans away from you, showing that he’s feeling defensive. Watch when his body language mirrors yours, showing he feels empathy with you.

• Give a context to what you say. Don’t launch straight in to a set of instructions or questions, but set the scene first. Your listener needs time to adjust to the new topic. Phrases such as “can we talk about arrangements for the weekend,” tune her in, help her start thinking and make it easier for her to understand.

• Take turns. Let the other person finish what they have to say and avoid interrupting. This matters even more in a tricky situation, when an interruption signals that you are not prepared to consider another’s point of view.