For years I struggled to network at work and socialize at parties. Most often I suffered from 'Introvert's Paralysis,' our tendency to freeze up when we enter the conversational arena. Often, I could barely remember my name, let alone what I wanted to talk about to try to weave my way into conversations.
Yet introverts are sociable people. We may prefer smaller groups for shorter durations, but we have plenty to say and can oftentimes hold interesting, thought-provoking, and even humorous conversations. So what's the problem?
Our anxiety often gets the best of us. When the moment comes, all are thoughts fade away and we are blinded by the spotlight thrust upon us.
This was a problem for me in meetings, industry conferences, and even casual social events. Until I realized I just needed to apply some of my strengths to prevail. Yes, instead of trying to socialize like others, I needed to lean on my own style to succeed.
So now I often rely on my List of Four!
Before any event, take some personal time and ponder four conversation pieces:
Questions about the other person(s) you will meet: questions are a great place to start. Do a bit of research on social media or through friends to understand what the other person does, their hobbies, family, vacations, etc. Then prepare a few questions that will get the conversation started. Most people love to entertain questions about themselves. They appreciate the attention and the interest, and will eventually reciprocate with some questions back to you. Suddenly, the conversation has started!
Something unique and interesting about yourself: take a few minutes and think of some interesting experiences to share. This is not the mundane chronology of what you did last weekend. Think of amazing events - vacations, interesting hobbies, volunteer work, quirky skills. Then just monitor the conversation for the right time to interject a story or two.
Interesting current events: if you don't already, subscribe to a news service or two that provides you a brief update of current events each morning. They may even brand them as great water-cooler conversation. Peruse them every morning and jot down a few to raise, well, at the water-cooler, during the socializing phase of meetings, or at a networking event. For instance, on CNN's 5 Things email, below the more newsy items like Ukraine, Coronavirus, and the Economy, they share these gems, any of which could be conversation starters depending on your interest and the audience:
Airbnb says staffers can work remotely forever, if they want,
Jacksonville Jaguars choose Travon Walker as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft,
James Corden leaving 'The Late Late Show' in 2023,
One ticket wins the $473.1 million Powerball jackpot,
Camera captures 'jaw-dropping' view inside of a shark's mouth.
Common interests: consider the event you are at. If it's business-related, you can talk about a project you are working on (contingent on the confidential nature of such projects), ask not just how others got into their job but what passions drove them to the role. Passions spark energy and everyone loves that. Perhaps it's a social event centered around bowling, nature, a volunteer organization, or a hobby. A theme that has brought you all together is something you have in common and should be explored further.
Introverts generally relish deeper conversations. These are the opportunities to truly get to know someone, to test if you have enough in common and can generate the flow of conversation to warrant more engagement later. These four questions are a bit deeper than your general chitchat. Many will find you interesting and unique. They won't forget you as easily, and will often want to reconnect later.
Some will steer away and find the conversation too probing. These are likely not your matches anyway. A conversation is a two-way street. It takes both parties to participate. We can't hit it off with everyone. Be proud of your efforts and move on to the next person.
Okay, here's the special sauce... Jot your List of Four on a small piece of paper or the back of your business card (or in your iPhone) and put it in your pocket (not the pocket you have your hand-out business cards 😉). Before you enter the meeting, social hall, or restaurant, peek at your card. Pick a couple of questions and sharings to start with. If you need a refresher later, take a walk and review your card, or duck into the restroom to pick a few more items to share. The card helps remove the anxiety of the moment.
As you lean on one of an introvert's greatest strengths - preparation - it helps get you in the rhythm of a conversation, after which you can enjoy the flow without further reference to your list - it's done its job. Now you are free to let your natural curiosity take over.
This article is adapted from Steve Friedman’s award-winning leadership book for introverts, The Corporate Introvert: How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence. Check out more of the book’s stories and models and how you can buy your own copy here.
Don't Miss a Weekly Blog
Subscribe to BeyondIntroversion today and receive my FREE 100-page Booklet,
The Questions Introverts Ponder and The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Subscribers also get free access to quizzes, other resources, and a monthly newsletter. Don't worry, I never pass your email address to others, I don't send spam, and you can cancel anytime.
The Questions Introverts Ponder
The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. Contained in this book are many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I'm incredibly thankful that I came across your blog. I currently have your [Q&A] booklet up on my work computer and every single line resonates with me. I've struggled my entire life with introversion, but your guide is helping me realize that I need to embrace it instead of feeling embarrassed! Anyways, your content is awesome and I'm planning on sharing some info with my team. -GK 2/8/2022
I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. I hope this booklet may serve to educate others to better understand the many strengths and talents we have to share.
I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share from there.
Understand Acetylcholine - The Introvert's Catalyst in the Brain