Adventures of an Introvert

admire-1139155_1920A Viking abroad, the introvert’s bible and learning and development that doesn’t traumatize introverts.

I’m married to an introvert. And being with an introvert has led to some hilarious events.

On holiday in Portland, Maine, we went to a comedy review show. We sat in the middle. In the safe seats. It was a one woman show and the actress was hosting a cocktail party. In exuberant mood she greeted her guests and gushed over them with her green feather boa. And those guests? She picked them from the crowd. You know where this is going, don’t you?

Reaching into a bag she revealed a range of hats. One of them was a Viking helmet. Scanning the crowd, our hostess locked eyes with my poor, polite husband, the split second before he looked away.

“Ah, that sheepish, don’t look at me look. Very Scandinavian. Let’s have you up here, then!” she cried, brandishing the helmet at him.

Little did she know she’d seized upon the real McCoy. A Viking whose middle name is Thor and who lives in Smoky Bay (the English translation of Reykjavik).

My Viking hesitated for a couple of seconds. By his concept of time this pause lasted as long as it takes the glaciers that cover 11% of Iceland to move a few meters. Then he got up and he played nice. He met the other “guests” and won the silly balloon game she made them play.

Introverts don’t wear badges

Welcome to the world of being an introvert. Just like modern day Vikings, they don’t wear a badge announcing who they are.

Working in learning and development over the years, I’ve trained a lot of introverts, particularly in Iceland, where there seem to be a great number of them. Perhaps it’s the sprinkling of a population across all those wide, open spaces. After all, Iceland is roughly the same size as Portugal or the state of Kentucky but with only 320,000 people.

They’re used to their space and using fewer words, certainly fewer than folk from the UK, never mind North America who like to use a lot of words with little-space-in-between-them.

Inside an introvert’s head

I’ve also learned a lot about introverts through Susan Cain’s thoughtful TED talk and her book “Quiet.” Did I find this book useful? Yes. Then my introvert husband read it, and then bought it for his introvert best friend, and then my extrovert friend bought a copy to help better understand her introvert daughter.

It’s a book I regularly tell my clients about, especially those who lead a team, as statistics show that up to half the population are introverts (and if you’re in Iceland, I reckon this is much higher, so for anyone dealing with anyone from Iceland, get your hands on a copy.)

Here’s what the book highlighted for someone in learning and development.

1. Cain is American and she writes about cultural development in America. And although cultural norms vary, the US heavily influences global culture, so whatever part of the world you’re reading this from, you’re affected.

She explores how US culture has changed. In the 1800s there was a culture of character which prized being dutiful, humble and serious. Come the industrial revolution and urbanisation, this was overtaken by the culture of personality that championed being outgoing, charismatic and magnetic.

This might lead you to think that it’s better being an extrovert to get ahead, but think again. There are a lot of misconceptions about extroverts.

From an L&D perspective, much focus is put on leadership qualities that play more into an extrovert’s hand. However, some of the most effective leaders are introverts and so it’s worth exploring and cultivating introvert qualities in leadership courses.

2. A lot of us are ambiverts, meaning we have a balance of introvert or extrovert tendencies, and which is stronger depends on the situation. I can relate to this. In the UK, the culture I’m from, I thought I was an extrovert, in Iceland I learned that I’m an ambivert – yup, these introverted Icelanders have rubbed off on me, and in North America I find that I’m an introvert as I can get overwhelmed by large social settings and large personalities that make me feel I’m in the middle of a kids’ cartoon.

When I’m training people I try and remember this and be aware that an individual’s cultural background will influence how she feels on the introvert-ambivert-extrovert scale, and that this in turn will affect the overall group dynamic.

3. Introverts get oceans of inspiration from being alone and it fuels original, creative thought. This is an interesting one. Think about the last time you had a great idea, a flash of inspiration. Chances are you were on your own when this happened, especially if you’re an introvert.

From an L&D point of view this makes me think carefully when I want to set up an activity for people to explore their creative ideas…which leads me neatly to my last point.

4. Group work in kindergarten, group work in school, group work in the office. Cain wrings her hands and says that we’re obsessed with it in today’s world. She offers an alternative and I’ve used this great technique to find that it supports both introverts and extroverts’ needs.

These are just four practical applications I’ve taken from the book. I’ve found that they help the introverts in front of you be calmer, more able to contribute and get more out of the training session.

Do you have experience working with and training introverts? What techniques have you found that are successful? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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