18 months ago I was at a conference. It was exclusive and expensive. The ratio of nine speakers to 50 attendees (combined with the fact that we were all staying together at a beautiful resort) made for an unusual (and excellent) level of access to both speakers and fellow attendees.
The way I saw it, there was only one problem with the whole setup.
The outgoing extroverts.
They were clever, charismatic and so darn cool. Everyone wanted to be in their orbit.
Which made things difficult for a shy introverts like me.
Shyness vs introversion
While these two traits are often used interchangeably in conversation, they’re quite different things.
Introversion is an energy thing. (Contrary to popular opinion, introverts do like people, they just tire quickly when interacting with them.)
Shyness, on the other hand, is a social anxiety where a fear of interacting with other people brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and, as a result, usually leads to avoidance1.
Here’s what shyness looks like for me:
Oh hey, there’s that person I’d love to talk to!
*Kelly starts walking over to said person.*
Wait! Just because you want to talk to that person doesn’t mean they want to talk to you! Maybe you should just hover awkwardly one metre away from them. Then, if they talk to you, you’ll know it’s because they want to.
*Person in question starts talking to me*
Oh my God , they’re talking to me. Why are they talking to me? I have nothing to offer them. Say something interesting, Kelly. Add some value to their life. SAY SOMETHING INTERESTING! Oh no, they’re looking over my shoulder. Clearly they can see someone they’d rather be talking to. They’re going to make their excuses any second now. I should get in first. I know, I’ll tell them I need to go to the toilet.
*Kelly takes off for the toilet*
Phew. Crisis averted.
If you’re thinking it’s hard to make good connections at a conference if you spend the whole time in the toilet, you’d be right. Unsurprisingly, I went home from that event feeling quite frustrated.
Time for some honest self-reflection
Why was I frustrated?
It was because I spent all my time angsting about the connections I didn’t make instead of celebrating the ones I did. I was also wasting energy comparing myself to people with different strengths to me (i.e. the outgoing extroverts) instead of leveraging my own.
Happily for me, I got a ‘do-over’. I attended the same conference earlier this year and went in with a new mindset.
I remembered the five ways we shy introverts are ‘cooler’ than we think:
1. We value quality over quantity
When we come across a kindred spirit (usually a fellow quiet person), we’re able to go deep fast. So, while we might make fewer connections, the ones we do make are for life!
2. We notice stuff others don’t
Because we don’t mind a bit of quiet observation (aka standing in a corner holding up the wall), we pick up signals other people miss. We see subtle nuances in conversation and body language that tell us how people are really feeling. So, when we do engage, it’s with a level of sensitivity and understanding that people appreciate.
3. We’re great listeners
The shy introvert likes nothing more than someone else taking control of the conversation and yabbering away. We like to listen. People like to be listened to. It’s a great combination!
4. We’re a puzzle wrapped in an enigma
In a world that is “about quick fixes, instant gratification and speedy convenience … the shy introvert doesn’t deliver that. But for those who have glimpsed the pearl inside the oyster, the shy introvert is a source of intrigue and fascination.” [Thank you Lonerwolf!]
I never realised this until an extrovert friend pointed it out to me – shy introverts often appear mysterious and intriguing to people; a code that is fun to crack!
5. We’ve mastered the long tail of relationships
We might not blow people away when they meet us in person, but we’re really great at interacting online where we have time and space to think, and we can also pick and choose how, where and when we engage depending on our energy levels. This means we can take the briefest conversation from a conference (or anywhere really) and, over time, turn it into a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship.
Bottom line: aim to connect, not impress
While it’s natural to want to be seen and make a great impression when meeting new people, I do believe that’s best left to those for whom this comes naturally. Experience has taught me that when I focus on ‘trying to make an impression’, I just end up looking like I’m trying too hard.
When I shift my focus to making quality connections (over that ‘big impression’), I’m playing to my strengths. And that’s when the things that are ‘cool’ about me get to come to the fore.
Are you a shy introvert? Have you learned to leverage your strengths when meeting new people?