When you hire a business coach and develop a program or product, the first marketing instructions you get will probably be something like this: “Contact your friends, send them a warm letter, offer them your services or product, and ask them if they know people who would be interested.” Bingo! You’re on your way with a marketing list, sure to grow as your friends enthusiastically spread the word.
A typical introvert, I have spent my life making a few very deep friendships. Not for me the inclusion in the circle of giggling young women who took coffee breaks and lunch together every day, celebrating life events. When they were discussing a shower for one of their members, I was drinking coffee and reading a book. Their lunchtime group shopping tours were a far cry from my lunchtime exploratory (and solitary) walks.
I’ve had four deep friendships in my life. Let’s see, there was Polly, whom I met in the first grade. As two brown-haired, pig-tailed petite girls in a sea of blonde Scandinavians, we bonded instantly. We’re still friends, decades later, despite a 40-year hiatus when we moved apart, a gap that was bridged instantly when we met again.
Then there was an adventurous, brilliant but troubled girl in junior high school, whom I had to let go out of my life because I sensed her habit of living on the edge would lead me into trouble and deflect me from my path. And finally, the vibrant, charismatic friend of my middle years who suffered a head and brain injury, and died this year, after years of suffering, leaving me bereft.
And of course, hosts of acquaintances and colleagues, with whom I exchanged brief but pleasant conversations over the years.
Uh-oh. Not an auspicious start to my marketing list.
Luckily, there was the fourth: a serene and wise introvert who had early on mastered the art of being connected to a wide variety of supportive people while maintaining her privacy and serenity.
Studying her and listening to her brought about profound changes in my life and techniques I now share with others.
Here is some of the wisdom I have gathered:
Be a Person of Interest, not a Person of Mystery
People are curious; they want to know something about people around them in order to feel safe, to know how to respond and what to say and do – or not say or do. In short, they need to know, like and trust you (essential for business), but in order to do that they need to flesh out that vague outline of you that you may be presenting to them. If they have no idea who you are, what you stand for, and what delights you or not, they will make something up. In fact, they will write a whole life story for you that would astound you if you knew it. And you probably won’t like it.
I listen to introverts, I know the complaints – “Why do they want to know what I did over the weekend? It’s nobody’s business but my own.” And I get it; I have spent many a weekend alone, happily listening to music, reading, gardening, reluctant to disclose that to anyone in a world that deems that solo behavior is peculiar.
But I also know that you risk being thought of as “aloof,” “snobbish,” or even ”arrogant.”
So take a deep breath and learn to say something like, “I had a great time relaxing, getting caught up, and even finding time to read. How about you?” Over to the other person, who probably really wanted to talk about what he or she did, anyway. Use your great listening skills to convince people that you are a great conversationalist.
Find something to connect with potentially in everyone you meet
While I (and many introverts, which I gather from reading internet forums) was looking at other people to see what wasn’t going to work here, and what I could do to protect myself, my friend is always seeking something to which she can relate. It isn’t always there and she has been known to quietly but diplomatically dismiss people from her life, but she often finds it. Her reward? A large group of very different people who complement different aspects of her personality and love her to pieces because she has recognized some unique essence in them.
Learn to set boundaries
Avoiding other people completely sets a huge boundary around yourself but it doesn’t help you navigate the complexities of actually being in a relationship with someone without being swallowed up or drawn into activities you don’t enjoy. We use avoidance to protect ourselves from the danger of – of what? Engaging in an activity you find distasteful? Being bored to death?
Asking for what you want and diplomatically turning down what you don’t want are communication tools everyone needs in order to be liked and trusted and to feel safe.
These are just a few of the simple changes introverts can make to ramp up their personal support group without becoming someone they imagine they wouldn’t like.
In the words of an incredibly successful sales person I met a few years ago, Never try to make a sale. Just try to make a friend.
How about you? Do you have a group of people who are your cheerleaders? Or do you just have a large group of casual acquaintances who barely think of you when you are not present?
It’s never too late to start enlarging your support group and reaping the personal and professional rewards. Tell me some of the skills you, as an introvert, have learned to develop a strong support network.
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.