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the introvert’s survival guide with Trina Isakson

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So today we're talking about introverts. Let's define what it means to be introverted.

Introverts are people who get their energy from time alone. Some people will equate introversion with shyness or social anxiety but those two things while they sometimes might overlap, are very distinct from one another. So introverted folks are people who gain energy from being alone, who if they need to be energized, do that by maybe retreating in their own brain, doing some reflection and thinking, reading, spending time alone, likely more quietly. These are people who maybe throughout a conference or a networking event, feel the need to just like take a break or sometimes step outside, maybe have lunch alone to regroup and re-energize.

Other traits of introverts might be things like enjoying socializing, but more so in smaller groups with people we already know or with strangers on topics that we have a shared interest about. We don't love big networking events with small talk. Interruptions can be challenging for introverts having our flow of thoughts getting mixed up.

I know some people bristle against the label, they don't like it because maybe it seems to have negative connotations, or they just don't like the limits of a label. So some people might call themselves an ambivert. Or an extroverted introvert. And so be I only use a label so that insofar as that it can be helpful, so the things that we talk about today, maybe the introvert label doesn't resonate for you, but the tips that we talked about could be helpful for you. And that's what's most important to me, not whether or not you identify with a label.

It’s a spectrum, right? Introversion and extraversion can have extremes. But most of us lie somewhere on the scale and have different degrees of that. I think what it comes down to is we have different ways of working and being in the world and you need to figure out how to re energize when your fuel is low.

What's really important for me to emphasize is that all ways of being are valid. Every human has worth. We come about it from different ways and different perspectives.

Here’s a really useful metaphor if people don't really understand what I mean by “where we gain energy from.” Extroverts, when they get up in the morning, they start with an empty bag of coins. There are no coins in it. And every interaction that they have with somebody, they add a coin to their purse. So if they've had a lot of interaction throughout the day and been around a lot of people, their purse is full. And it's full of energy. Whereas introverts might start the day with a bag full of coins. And every interaction they have one coin gets removed. And so if they've had a lot of interaction, that coin purse is much less full and they have less energy.

That being said, there might be days where I don't interact with people. And my coin purse is too full, I need to spend some of those coins interacting with people. So it's not like I don't enjoy interacting with people. I love people. People bring a lot of joy to my life. But if that happens all day, every day, it's super exhausting.

Let's talk a little bit about how introversion plays itself out in the workplace. If you are introverted, what struggles you might face, that other people who are extroverted might not appreciate, see understand or you know, really get or have.

Yeah, I think a big one would be related to the fact that a lot of people in general in the world of work, but also in the nonprofit sector are in precarious work situations where you might not have a long term stable job. And therefore having a network is so important so that when you need to move on to the next thing, that you have people that you can call on and let them know that you're looking for your next opportunity. And so I think the the whole push to network can be really draining for introverts. I think of it as building a network, not networking as a verb, but it's about just relationships that you foster over time that don't need to be draining don't need to about going to events and handing out cards.

I think about some of my some of the conferences that I've gone to, and I might go to a conference with 200 people I know, there's no way I'm going to meet all of them, let alone half of them, maybe not even a quarter. And so I might, interact with say, 50 people over a weekend. But out of those 50 people, there might only be five who I've had a genuine interaction with that I might follow up with by email and then I might touch base with maybe even only on an annual basis just to let them know that I'm alive. If there are people that I had a particularly meaningful interaction with, maybe we follow up and have a coffee together or have a zoom call. But I don't go away from conferences anymore feeling the pressure to have 30 new people in my network.

Anything in the day to day interactions with people who are extroverted?

So much work happens in teams, and I think it's easy for anyone to default to bring people onto a team that are like us already, and that could be related to introversion, but it could be related to other characteristics like work experience, or gender or class or race. Sometimes we self segregate in the workplace and so I think introverts often feel comfortable being around other introverts because we give ourselves time to think and space to talk.

It’s really important to bring different people to a team. So you need a doer or you need a promoter, you need someone who's good at asking difficult questions, you need someone who's provides a lot of care and concern to the well being of a team.

There’s many different roles we need to bring to teams. But when people have different working styles, sometimes that can create tension. One super minor, but common way that pops up is a culture of interrupting or not.

With many extroverts being in a conversation where there are a lot of interruptions happening and people are talking over one another it can be a sign that you're having a really engaging, interactive, exciting, ideas flowing conversation. Introverts might perceive that as like a whole bunch of rudeness and like nothing's actually happening because no one can actually get a full thought out.

The other option is for one person to say something and then there's a pause. So people have the opportunity to be the next person. For extroverts, they might look at that and go, what a boring conversation.

These are just two very different ways of working, that are both valid, but sometimes it can be in tension with one another. So making sure that there if you are chairing a meeting, or if you're responsible for meeting, making sure that there are opportunities for people to take one or two minutes to jot down their own thoughts before they share them with the group. Or be very observant of the group and notice when people might be inhaling in a way that shows they want to say something but they don't want to interrupt, so call on them and provide everyone an opportunity to speak their piece.

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Resources from this Episode

The Good Partnership


Manager Tools podcast

Myers-Brigg Type Indicator

DiSC profile


Connect with Trina

The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano