Part 6: Quiet – Next Steps – a GHC2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 5: Quiet – The Best Leaders.

Cain provided the following next steps:

Rethink networking

Networking is the universal bugaboo of introverts.  The admonition to “exchange as many business cards as you can and drop off as many resumes as you can” requires meeting as many people as you can in as short a time as you can (with apologies to John Wesley).  This is exactly what depletes an introvert’s batteries.  “She who collected the most business cards wins” is not an effective modus operandi for introverts.

“Your job should be to look for the kindred spirits, not work the room,” Cain clarified.  Kindred spirits!  This familiar phrase instantly sent my mind racing back to the nostalgic era of the 1990’s, when I was first introduced to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables”.  Anne is continually on the lookout for kindred spirits, also referred to as “the race that knows Joseph”.  Talkative Anne initially seems to be a bubbly extrovert but she also loves spending hours communing with nature and says, “You know it’s lovely to be alone once in a while.”  Montgomery and her alter ego, Emily Starr, are clearly defined introverts.  Montgomery bemoaned her social circle’s lack of understanding on the need for solitude when she caustically noted, “People who wanted to be alone could only want to be alone for some sinister purpose.” After a boisterous visit with cousins, Emily returns home “to her own dear room” and writes in her diary (another feature of introverts!) that she “revelled in solitude”.  Both Emily and Anne have been known to say, “I had a lovely time with myself today.”

These books and characters took up most of the mental space of my formative years.  This led me to wonder whether introversion could be a learned behavior.  However, I also remember exhibiting introverted tendencies as a younger child.  I liked to read in rooms by myself at social gatherings and was continually in search of a friendly book when my parents and I visited other families.

Back to networking.  Cain advises setting yourself a quota of kindred spirits to meet at your next networking event.  After you’ve met this quota, you are free to retreat back to your cocoon – taking a warm bath in your hotel room, watching TV in your sleepwear or curling up with a good book.  This approach will result in an even richer network than the one you had before because it is intrinsically motivated and not as mechanistic.

Step outside your comfort zone

Expanding your comfort zone is uncomfortable for everyone, but especially for introverts.  It is therefore essential to pick your battles.  Select those core personal projects that are important to you in work and life.  Be uncomfortable for something that matters deeply to you and the reward will be worth the temporary feelings of discomfort.  Ensure the time frame for your chosen activity is finite; once it is over, you can relax with the statement, “That’s done and now I’m back to being me.”

Regular periods of downtime are essential for introverts to be their best self.  Schedule your calendar differently; tweak it to incorporate the very necessary solitude.

Cain cited herself as an example of venturing outside of one’s comfort zone.  “I’m here, giving this lecture.  Otherwise, I’d be in a library with my laptop.”  The audience certainly appreciated Cain’s expansion of her comfort zone!

Groom an “unlikely” leader

Pay what you have learned forward.  Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.  Locate that person in your life who does not fit the traditional mold of “leader” and consider what you could do to help them expand their own comfort zone.  This doesn’t mean turning them into someone else.  Draw on the amazing strengths they already have.

Cain has successfully used her platform to start a Quiet Revolution.  Members of this team are known as Quiet Ambassadors.  They go to different companies and observe how to optimize the work environment for introverts whose needs may not be currently served.  Cain showed us a photo of Quiet Ambassadors at LinkedIn in 2016.  The Quiet Revolution is grooming unlikely leaders on a large scale.

Know what’s in your suitcase

Remember Cain’s suitcase full of books that she took to camp?  Consider the contents of your own metaphorical suitcase.  For me, it’s a notebook and pen.  Reflect on the following questions (I’ve included my own answers):

  • Why do you carry these things wherever you go?

I want to observe, remember and record.

  • Why do they matter to you?

They are part of my identity.  I’m a writer and these are my tools.

  • Why did you put them there?

I love using them.  Just seeing them makes me feel happy and I never know when I will need them.

Extroverts find it natural and easy to share their answers with others.  Cain encourages her fellow introverts to “share once in a while with the people around you, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry”.

Cain graciously closed her lecture with the following benedictions:

  • I wish you the best of all possible journeys
  • Make you have the courage to speak softly

She received thunderous applause.  The Q&A portion showed the audience’s eagerness to engage with her.

To be continued …

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