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How to Work a Crowd, for Introverts

Nobody likes small talk -- and other revelations for introverts

This honest and funny guest post was written by Jane London, co-host of the Dom and Jane Show on Mix 100 in Denver -- Jane also writes a blog, Present Tense:

I am an introvert. According to Myers-Briggs testing, an INTJ. I've also been a morning radio host for over 25 years. In order to thrive, I've had to master the art of faking extroversion. I was so shy as a kid that my mom pulled me out of kindergarten for a year. Early in my radio career my boss sent me to a Dale Carnegie course, hoping it would remedy my obvious discomfort during public appearances.

I've often described myself as 'socially retarded' and yet, the majority of my friends and co-workers look at me in utter disbelief when I tell them that I'm shy and introverted. I'm a very good faker.

I began college as an English major, morphed into journalism and ended up reading the news on the college radio station. I was a reporter who hated talking to sources, but loved the solitude of the broadcast booth. Like most of my fellow introverts, I have plenty to say, but I prefer to say it via the written word or to a select few friends and co-workers. That's the beauty of radio; just a few of us in a room, talking to each other with a microphone. Easy, right?

I love my job, but I dread public appearances. Over the years, I've made it clear to my co-workers and supervisors that I can work a crowd for no more than two hours. I know my limits and I strictly enforce them for my benefit and the benefit of the radio station.

So, I've developed some tactics to help me through these uncomfortable situations. They’re apparently quite effective, since only my family and my therapist know the real, shy, introverted me.

1. There is no such thing as "small talk". Here's a shocker for you: NOBODY likes "small talk", which is why the rest of the world refers to it as "conversation". When you label face to face communication with another human being as "small", it automatically makes it seem shallow or useless, when it's not. I've read some of the comments on Susan's posts introverts who long for deep, meaningful conversations. Really? Then, you have to engage in the foreplay of lesser subjects and maybe once in a while, you'll find yourself in the middle of one of those deep conversations. In the meantime, listen and ask questions, based on the person in front of you. Going into a gathering with some pre-determined "small talk topics" is silly and kind of insulting. Everyone has something interesting to say, if you give them a chance. I know, you're thinking that they're judging YOU as boring, because you're shy and not much of a talker. Trust me, I've been there a thousand times. I'm still amazed that people want to meet me just because I'm on the radio, but they do and I've learned to be gracious and find time to chat with them. If you're not a talker, be a listener for a few minutes and then move on to the buffet.

2. Know your limits. As I mentioned, I have a two hour shelf-life as a phony extrovert and I plan accordingly. My husband and I have a reputation for being the first to leave parties; I own it and joke about it. I'm okay with getting out of my comfort zone, but only for a short time. Don't beat yourself up about it. Accept it, laugh about it and plan for it.

3. Some people are irritating and insufferable. We all have to deal with them. Don't freak out, just avoid them if you want to. If they corner you, smile and nod for a few minutes and then tell them you have to pee. It's worked for me hundreds of times; of course I'm rather blunt and socially inept, so you might be more comfortable with a different excuse.

4. Everyone in the room isn't looking at you, unless you are Jennifer Aniston or Charlie Sheen. Slip out for a few minutes and grab some alone time. I find that if I leave a crowd for 5 or 10 minutes, it calms me and sometimes, re-charges me.

5. Attach yourself to an extrovert. My oldest and closest friends can talk to anybody, anytime, anywhere. I've ridden their coat-tails for years and in doing so, have picked up a few pointers for my fake extrovert tool box. They smile, they compliment, they ask questions, they joke. Extroverts aren't shallow or stupid or phony; I reject those claims by my introverted brethren. Jackasses come in every variety and just because one big-mouthed, glad-hander made you miserable in high school, it shouldn't color your perceptions for the rest of your life.


What do you think of Jane's advice?

If you like this blog, you might like to pre-order my forthcoming book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

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