A friend of mine published a blog post the other day about what it’s like to be forced to collaborate with colleagues on a daily basis as an introvert. As I read it, I knew exactly what she was describing. I have often described being an introvert as a curse. It feels like a curse many times because we live in a society geared toward extroverts. Extroverts seem to have it all together. They walk into a crowded room and instantly find someone to talk to. They can make small talk, tell funny jokes, and make friends everywhere they go.
At least that’s how it seems from the wall where you will find me.
I walk into a crowded room and instantly search for a place to be away from everyone else. I once walked into a crowded gym for a junior high basketball game and panned the room, not for faces, but for a light from the heavens to land on an empty place on the bleachers. Eyes focused on that spot, I walked there as quickly as I could, feeling a sense of accomplishment and peace as soon as I secured the five feet of empty bleacher space for myself. It was only at that moment when I could relax enough to look around and see if I actually knew anyone in the gym, discovering pretty quickly that I had walked right past two colleagues and didn’t even speak.
So you can probably imagine that I have a difficult time working in groups, most notably groups I have not chosen for myself. And being put in charge of those groups can be a real challenge for an introvert. But that doesn’t mean we don’t like being in charge. Even introverts sometimes like to lead. There are just a few things you need to know about the beautiful, complicated mind of an introvert if you want to get the most out of them when collaborating, and because I don’t want to say I speak for all introverts, I’ll use myself in these truths.
SEVEN TRUTHS of an INTROVERTED EDUCATOR
ONE: I want to be a leader.
This is probably a surprising revelation to anyone who has been in a meeting with me. When I’m in a meeting or have been told with whom to collaborate, I basically sit in silence and look like a complete doofus. I imagine that anyone who observes me in a meeting is probably thinking, “Does she have a thought in her head? Is she stupid? Is she asleep with her eyes open? Does she have any idea what we are talking about?” And I wouldn’t blame them for asking any of those questions. Everything about my body language and what I say, or don’t say, would make anyone doubt my intelligence or at least my ability to follow a conversation.
TWO: It’s almost like I’m living in two different worlds at the same time.
One world is the one people see, the world where I appear to be a completely mute moron. But the world inside my head is a world where I never stop “talking.” Because the reality is I have a lot to say. My family notices this because I often make facial expressions that go along with the conversation happening in my head. And rarely do the conversations stop. I may appear to be driving down the road in silence when I am really trying to solve the problem of students misusing their computers during a tech-dependent lesson. Or I may be weighing in on an argument I heard between two colleagues…or mulling over what I “should have said” when an administrator asked my opinion about something and all I could verbalize at the moment was “Sounds good to me.”
THREE: I’m listening.
Whether it appears to be the case or not, I actually listen intently and synthesize all the various ideas being presented in a discussion. Sometimes I impress myself with my ability to listen to what others are saying, take their ideas and mold them with mine, and create something even better than any of us could come up with on our own. That’s what collaboration is about, right? But that’s not what others see. I don’t blame the extroverts in the group. They may be social butterflies, but they aren’t mind readers. So instead of sharing my new wisdom with the group, I leave the meeting, meet up with someone I trust, and tell that person my idea. And more times than not, nobody else ever hears it.
FOUR: I need time to process.
The reason I don’t speak up often is I need time to think things through and come up with the best way to communicate my thoughts. When several people are offering up ideas all at once, my brain is so busy trying to make sense of them and to formulate ideas of its own, that the meeting it often long over before I have settled on what I want to say. This is why it’s so important to me to have colleagues I trust and who will listen to me when I am ready to talk. Because once I have processed my ideas, oddly enough, I need to tell somebody. I need a sounding board. And I want to know what you think about what I have to say…when I’m done saying it.
FIVE: I need you to listen.
If you are one of the chosen ones, please listen to me. I know that sounds incredibly needy and self-centered, but if I am sharing my thoughts with you, I have most likely rehearsed them a hundred times in my head first. If you keep interrupting me or keep looking at your phone or, have mercy on your soul, stop and talk to somebody else, I will lose my train of thought and, even worse, it will feel like a slap in the face. My feelings will be hurt and my trust in you will suffer. I will feel like what I have to say is not important to you, that I am not important to you, and I will clam up…again. [Yes, I do have specific people in mind as I’m writing this paragraph. You know who you are.] 🙂
SIX: I won’t volunteer.
When I am placed in a position of leadership, I will step up and do what needs to be done. But I won’t volunteer myself. I have a difficult time inserting myself into a conversation, so I need to know someone else has faith in my abilities to lead a group. I need someone else to place me in that position. And then I need time to think and process before I begin to lead. If someone makes me a leader of a group on the spot, I won’t do a very good job. I’ll feel inadequate and ill-prepared. I won’t be able to get my footing or muster up the confidence I need to have my voice heard. I need time.
SEVEN: I will lead well.
If I am placed in a position of leadership and given time to process what that looks like, I will lead well. I will be considerate of the needs and strengths of my group members. I will listen to what is being said and thoughtfully consider each idea. I will celebrate the successes of others and encourage people through their failures. I will research when needed and ask for advice when I don’t know the best step to take. I will explain my thought process and be transparent in my decision making. I will treat my teammates with respect and find ways to help other introverts be the influence I know they can be.
BONUS TRUTH: Being an introvert is not a curse.
Dealing with introversion may still sometimes feel like a curse, but I’ve learned that it’s really not. It’s just a different way of existing in the world. I have embraced the fact that I am an introvert and have become much more aware of others who share my way of processing. We aren’t strange, we aren’t weak, and we most certainly aren’t unintelligent. We are just different. If the world were full of extroverts, nobody’s voice would ever be heard. Introverts are good friends, excellent teachers, and powerful communicators. They are thoughtful planners, considerate partners, and wise leaders. Being an introvert is not a curse. It’s a blessing in a quiet disguise.
If you are an introvert and agree or disagree with anything I’ve said, please comment below or email me. I’d love to know what you think. If you aren’t an introvert but have questions about how to get the most out of the introverts you work with, feel free to contact me as well. I have a lot of opinions on the topic. 🙂
Here are some articles about introverts as leaders in case you want to read more:
Entrepreneur: 6 Truths on Why Introverts Make Great Leaders