Updated: Nov 20, 2022
Including 5 Tricks to Help Introverts Socialize
EXTROVERT: "Oh, you're not an introvert!"
I think all introverts have heard this statement at some time - perhaps often. People that you know or work with that don't believe you fit their stereotype of introverts - aloof, wallflower, anti-social.
I heard a chorus of this line during my 2018 retirement party from corporate America when I shared my intention to write about my introversion during my retirement. The room went silent, people looked at each other, and then the chorus began, "Oh, you're not an introvert. I've been to dinners/parties/work trips with you and there's no way you are an introvert!"
As I pondered that exchange, I think they were sucked into the stereotype that we introverts not only prefer not to socialize but that we CAN'T, so anyone that can hold an interesting conversation must be an extrovert.
In fact, I was on a podcast, Unlocking Happiness, a while back with a quite lovely hostess, Amy Dix. We chatted a bit before going live and then as the "RECORD" light went on, she introduced me to her guests, bewildered that we could have such a delightful conversation given my self-professed introversion. You can hear her intro here. I think I recovered well and we had an insightful 30-minute discussion and have reconnected since as well.
Honestly, I think many introverts, including myself for many years, fell into this trap as well. We attach ourselves to the introvert label because it sounds familiar. Yet, we are left without enough information to be able to dispel the myths and learn the truths about our own introversion.
In fact, sometimes we even explain our occasional verbosity by blurting out...
INTROVERT: "Sometimes I extrovert!"
Here, we are not claiming our own adept social skills, but attributing it as a slip-up as we try to act the part of an extrovert. Surely, smooth, interesting, and occasionally even humorous exchanges must be left to the extroverts in the world!
As I have learned, introversion and extroversion lie on a continuum. We are all on that line but none of us are permanently affixed to a point on the line. We all slide right and left depending on who we are (we are more than just introverted or extroverted) and the situation at the time. So introverts CAN socialize and extroverts CAN reflect. Really! It's okay!
However, I do think it's important to follow the immortal words of Frank Sinatra...
"I did it my way!"
As we reflect on those moments of mingling, we usually find that we did it our way. We weren't grabbing the mic and rattling off the top of our heads to a room full of strangers. No, perhaps subconsciously, we created that moment ourselves. This is important because now we can raise that magical social formula to our consciousness and practice and use it at will.
The Introvert's Social Formula
This equation consists of 5 simple steps. I coined the phrase "Networking Intimacy" for the first four and added the fifth as the cherry on top:
<D Shorter Duration: Our energy supply is limited. Even when we follow these steps, socializing does deplete our energy. So engaging for shorter durations is essential. Sometimes that may mean 10 minutes or an hour, depending on satisfying the other parts of the equation, but we are not likely to be conversing for hours on end.
<G Smaller Groups: We are more apt to chat with smaller groups where we can get to know each other and share more personal details. For me, the right size is usually 3-5 people. It's not so small as to feel I have to bear the full weight of the conversation myself, but not so big that I'm competing for air time or get sucked into superficial chitchat that leaves me feeling empty and unfulfilled.
(F) Familiar Faces: I'm definitely more apt to be talkative with family and friends, but not just anyone in these groups. There are certain people I find I have plenty in common. They are not aggressive and they are respectful of my approach. This allows us both to be relaxed - neither on the offensive nor the defensive. So even if I need to meet with strangers, if there are familiar people there or I can bring them along, I'm much more apt to participate.
(P) Familiar Places: I feel a bit of warmth and calmness in places I'm familiar with including my own home but also my favorite restaurants or walking paths. If your own (or your partner's) initiative prompts a dinner party, consider hosting rather than traveling as the "home field advantage" can create a calmer environment. If you have a work meeting or cocktail you must attend, check out the venue early to build familiarity and a connection.
#PREP Don't Forget to Prep: According to our Introvert Talent Quiz, the most common strength amongst introverts is preparation. Most of us not only enjoy planning for our day or specific events, but we NEED that preparation as well. We are not built for spontaneous dialogue, especially if one or more of the first four parts of the formula are violated. So consider who will be there and prepare your List of Four:
A few interesting stories about you: perhaps a vacation, a hobby, a quirky bucket list item. Don't shrink from being humorous or vulnerable. It's a great way to break the ice and invites others to join the conversation.
A few questions for others: it helps to do a bit of homework. Who will you be meeting? What do you know about them? What could your partner or co-worker tell you? What can you find out on social media? Then you can ask some general questions without prying. Ask about their hobbies or vacations, their favorite places, and what they find passion in at work or home.
Bring a current event topic: I'd steer away from religion or politics, but there's plenty to throw out there. Check your AM newsfeed for interesting topics or bizarre facts to share. "Hey, did you hear about this today...?"
Share your common focus: perhaps you are both at a work meeting, convention, vacation spot, museum, or kid's activity. Prepare a few points or questions about what has brought you together that day.
I find this List of Four to be quite handy. It calms my nerves to know I've got some topics up my sleeve to get the conversation started.
A Few Tricks
Sometimes I play a few tricks to help create the Social Formula for myself:
Sit toward the front rather than in the back of large meeting rooms. This makes it feel like there are fewer people in the room (Smaller Groups).
Arrive early to get the lay of the land (Familiar Places) and meet a couple of people (Familiar Faces). If your objective is to meet a few people, you've already done it and so you can give yourself "permission" to go with confidence when you are ready (Smaller Duration).
Speak early to alleviate the pressure to talk. It's like popping the cork on some champagne. If I wait too long to speak, even a very brief introduction, I become a bundle of nerves and it becomes harder to join the conversation later.
Jot down your List of Four on a notecard and slip it into your pocket for easy reference during bathroom breaks (Don't Forget to Prep).
Provide yourself with some respite before the meeting or event. Take a walk, listen to music, read, or journal. It has been proven that such personal time boosts our acetylcholine levels and thus our happiness and energy (Don't Forget to Prep, Shorter Duration).
Hopefully, The Introvert's Social Formula feels familiar. It should because most of us are quite sociable when the formula is satisfied, whether we know it or not. This is true, in part, because it really utilizes many of our common, natural strengths of preparation, thoughtfulness, observation/listening, and creativity. You may wish to join over 1850 others and take our Introvert Talents Quiz to learn how to use and grow your strengths.
You don't need to feel like you are "extroverting" and you don't need to accept others' disbelief. You can stand proud that you are using your own strengths through The Introvert's Social Formula to do it your way!
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