Thursday, April 19, 2012

Survival Strategies For Introverts

The introversion panel at Ad Astra 2012 spawned the idea for this post. After it was over I started thinking, "What can introverts do to not only survive but thrive in an extroverted world?". Here's what I've come up with:

1. Plan ahead and have an escape strategy:

Sounds simple right? You'd be surprised how many people, not just introverts, fail to do this. Look, if you're an introvert at some point you're going to put into an uncomfortable situation, such as attending a party you really didn't want to or presenting to a group of strangers. Having a way to gracefully step away from something you're not comfortable with is critical as it will prevent you from getting too stressed and saying something you didn't intend to. And remember, internalize rather than memorize. You want to be able to give a good reason without sounding like you're reading off a prepared speech. (This also works in keeping down nervousness if you have to give a talk in front of others.)

2. Know your limit:

Now for the reason you have your exit strategy. At some point you're going to hit your daily allotment of dealing with other people. The great thing about being an introvert is we're pretty good with the intake and processing of stimuli. The terrible thing is we get overwhelmed by said stimuli much quicker than extroverts. May have something to do with internalizing and chewing it over rather than constantly sending stimuli outwards. Not a good or a bad thing either way. It just is.

So why do we need to know our limits? Two reasons: First, so we can break them, and second, so we know when to exit. One we've reached our stimuli breaking point we need to back off and recharge, otherwise we run the risk of doing or saying something truly stupid. I know that I can get rather, testy, if I've been surrounded by stimulus for too long without a break and an innocent comment could get me to say something I'll regret. It's important to know what your personal limit is so you can retreat before you make an ass of yourself and derail all the work you're about to do with strategy 3.

3. Break out of your comfort zone:

Now you may be asking, "Didn't he just say to stay within my limit?" No, no I didn't. The reason I recommend knowing your limit is so that you can break it every now and then in a controlled manner in order to increase said limit. Think of it as social weight-lifting. On a regular basis it's a good idea to work your social muscles to failure so that as they recover they become stronger. This means you'll be more comfortable is a wider variety of social situations and less likely to have a knee-jerk negative reaction when placed in an unexpected uncomfortable situation, such as having to train a group of people you've just met or fill in for your boss at a meeting.

An example of me following this advice was Ad Astra 2012. Talking in front of a room full of people is something I've never been overly comfortable with and being a panelist this year helped me a lot with that. I was in a relatively safe, controlled environment and was guaranteed an audience that was at least interested in what I had to say. In the end, Ad Astra was a huge confidence boost for me and should help with my jitters the first time I actually have to do a (gah!) reading from something of mine that's been published.

So pick something just outside your comfort zone that you have a little bit of control over and do it. Keep doing this and you'll see yourself better able to socialize and being an introvert won't be some much of a burden.

Okay, so those are the top three strategies for introvert survival and thriving. Now from some little things:

  • Master the head bob and umm - this way people will realize you heard them while your brain is chewing over their problem. The chin-stroke works well too, especially if you have facial hair.
  • Take a second before responding to anything and consider your answer - we may know it right away (thank you fast stimuli processing) but we appear more thoughtful if we take a moment and we refine the phrasing of our answer to be more sociably correct.
  • Don't be afraid to smile.
  • Don't be afraid to observe for a couple minutes before diving into an unknown situation. Again, use your data-processing abilities to give yourself a leg-up in as many situations as possible.
My final recommendation is always remember that being shy/introverted doesn't make you any less deserving of success or happiness than anyone else. Being a jackass makes you less deserving, and both introverts and extroverts can be jackasses, so don't be one.


  1. This is all really good stuff, KW. Thanks so much for being on the introvert panel. The first one is the toughest, so I hope you'll be on more. You have a lot of great thoughts to share with people.

  2. I think these seem like great suggestions even for the ambiverts and a tired extrovert. Nicely done. There have been a few books that have come out recently about claiming one's power as an introvert. (Of course I don't remember what they are, but hopefully someone else will.)

  3. Thanks guys :). I'll keep an eye out for any books like you mentioned Bev.