I read the introverts forums, I watch the comments, and I feel a little dismayed. “Why won’t people leave me alone?” “I don’t like small talk, so I avoid people.” “Being around people is just so exhausting that I spend all my free time alone.” “I hate even the thought of networking.”
Unfortunately, good health and success are tied to the high quality of the relationships we form. Isolation is not.
It doesn’t have to be that hard. Fortunately, I know introverts who are highly successful in personal and professional life, especially relationships.
My friend with whom I traveled is an introvert who has a wealth of supportive friends and a successful professional life. Everywhere she goes, she seems to encounter someone who knows and likes her. If they don’t know her already, they will soon like her.
An outgoing extrovert? No, a lifelong introvert, who values her private time, makes it clear to others that she does so, and withdraws and uses meditation frequently to clarify life’s problems.
The lessons she models are important ones, because the people who “just want to be left alone” may be nonplussed to discover that they nevertheless need support, such as a drive home from a hospital after a procedure, a place to stay when their home has become temporarily uninhabitable, support for a bright idea, or even just a hug. And if you have a dream or a vision: nobody gets there alone. We all need support, and to get support you need to connect.
How she does it is a model for introverts everywhere. Here are some key guidelines.
Look for similarities, not differences.
It’s too easy to see someone else as abrasive or exhausting. Try to look for something you have in common with another person, or at least something likeable – perhaps a characteristic you’d like to have, such as a way of making people smile, or putting them at their ease.
Thoughtfulness: your Secret Weapon
Thinking deeply and noticing subtleties are real introvert skills. Too often we misuse them; our deep thinking becomes rumination, in which we obsess over and over about our inadequacies or embarrassments. The subtleties we may latch on to are other people’s negative reactions to things we do or say, rather than insights about the other people.
What about changing that to look outward and see other people for who they really are, then think of how you can connect?
My friend says that, when she meets someone new, she always looks for a similarity.
Reaching out and sharing doesn’t have to be exhausting.
You don’t have to sign up for big, noisy events, such as following the crowd to happy hour, to be socially connected.
Invite a colleague or neighbor to have coffee or tea: a one-on-one encounter in which you can find out more about the other person. You can take charge of the time, length and setting of the event.
Connecting doesn’t even have to take that much activity, nor do you even have to be physically present. It can only take a minute or so, sometimes even a second, to send thoughtful notes that are easy and quick. Keep some great stationery or cards on hand, then comment on birthdays, anniversaries, and especially successes.
Too busy to find cards and notepaper? Send one of those animated online cards, but make sure you add a personal note.
Set up a calendar which sends you reminders of other people’s special events: birthdays, anniversaries.
Special hint to make you special to others: take some time to make the message personal – for example, not just “congratulations,” but something like “I knew your ability to focus and be dedicated would pay off like this.”
Her way is to keep a list of people she knows and their tastes. During this recent trip, in April, she carried her Christmas list for next year, filling her suitcase with colorful bookmarks, soaps, and trinkets with which to delight her relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues. All year long she picks up things that she thinks will delight people on that list. Most items are neither large nor expensive, but they are truly insightful. Her choices are very apt: at one point, she gave me a small pair of wooden tongs to fish burning toast out of a toaster without electrocuting yourself. I use them every day, and I think of her every time I use them.
Having human contacts and arranging that those contacts don’t drain you of energy can keep you healthier and happier in so many ways.
Here are some of the consequences of the good social network she has set up:
She loves to travel, and has a host of friends to mind the cat and water the plants when she is away.
She also has a number of friends in other countries with whom she can connect when she next visits.
When she needs something, whether it is a new printer or a new sink, someone in her network seems to know exactly where to get it.
And recently, she started a new small business. With no advertising, not even a website, she had two clients in the first week. Some entrepreneurs agonize over how to attain visibility. She just does it naturally – one contact at a time.
So can you.
Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.