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Alisa Bonsignore headshot

Episode 006: Alisa Bonsignore–Growing as a Leader

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,Leadership,personality,Podcast,STC

Episode 006: Alisa Bonsignore–Growing as a Leader Show Notes

Alisa Bonsignore headshotIntroduction

Alisa Bonsignore is the principal of Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area with clients around the world. We discuss thought leadership, volunteering, the leadership journey, and career growth.

  • Twitter: @ClearWriter
  • Email: hello@clarifyingcomplexideas.com

Key concepts

  • Thought leadership
  • Volunteering
  • Mentoring
  • Career growth
  • No single path to Leadership

Quotable

Thought leadership can take a lot of different forms. You could be a blogger. You could podcast…. It could be about personal topics that are of interest to you, that help you to just make a connection with the reader somewhere. Maybe you’re a technical communicator by day, but maybe you also have a certification as a wine expert that you write about, and that could be something that a potential client or a potential employer reads about you own is like, “Wow, this person has a level of depth that I didn’t know about!”

I think it’s easy to look at someone that you see as a leader and you think they have always been a leader

But none of that (career growth) would have happened if I had just sat back and been the quiet one. I had to look for new approaches to my career, where I had to find those alternative leadership opportunities, where I could influence laterally instead of just being placed in a leadership role.

How are you going to prove your worth if you come in the first day doing X, and you leave five years later, still doing exactly the same thing? You need to grow and develop and learn things as you go….  And I think it just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience, because you can’t expect (that) you’re going to take a slightly new role or take on a project and it’s going to change your life radically overnight. It’s a gradual process that builds over time as you are exposed to more and more.

[Whatever your path is and whatever you might be thinking and whatever you’re stressing about, there is no right or wrong way. There is no one path. You just have to find the thing that works for you.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: We’re continuing our conversation with Alisa Bonsignore. Today we’re going to talk about her role as an influencer or as a leader. Alisa, can you talk to us a little bit about in what roles you’re an influencer or a leader and what that’s like for you?

Alisa: Sure. We’ve already talked previously about speaking, which obviously is a leadership thing in its own right, but I think for a lot of people, speaking ties in very closely with teaching. Some people will do it in a classroom. Some people will do it more in terms of conferences or annual speaking engagements, which is really a form of thought leadership. I’d like to think that people were coming to hear me talk because they liked my ideas, and that there is something useful that I have to say.

Alisa: And thought leadership can take a lot of different forms. You could be a blogger. You could podcast. Here’s an example! You could write a book, you could contribute are articles to Intercom. (We’re always looking for articles in Intercom, but it doesn’t even have to be limited to professional topics. ) It could be about personal topics that are of interest to you, that help you to just make a connection with the reader somewhere. Maybe you’re a technical communicator by day, but maybe you also have a certification as a wine expert that you write about, and that could be something that a potential client or a potential employer reads about you and is like, “Wow, this person has a level of depth that I didn’t know about. This is very interesting. I want to know more about them.”

Alisa: Mentoring is a great opportunity for guiding others. I’ve tried to mentor some people throughout the course of my career. I’ve been mentored by some wonderful people. I think that’s a really great way to influence and give back, but volunteering–as we’re both on the board of directors for STC.–volunteering is a large role in my life. But, you don’t have to be again, in a professional capacity. It doesn’t have to be for a professional society. You could be a volunteer at your local community park. You could be a volunteer for the soup kitchen. I mean, whatever it may be, something that helps you to be seen as a leader in a way that you might not be seen in your day-to-day professional work.

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting point and an important point, because in my professional capacity working in higher education, there isn’t really a career path in the area that I’m in. I’m a program manager in the information security office. I’m responsible for awareness and training. I manage a lot of the initiatives we do, but my step up is to be an information security officer, and that’s a far different role, and that role has a lot to do with incident handling which can come in at any hour of the day or night. So there’s some real–maybe some pluses–but there’s some minuses with it as well.

Ben: So I think that whole idea of finding leadership opportunities outside of your immediate workplace is really, really important. If I had only pursued what I could pursue within RIT, I wouldn’t be doing this podcast. I wouldn’t have run for president of an STC local chapter. I wouldn’t have run for the Board. I would probably not have been able to get engaged in mentoring relationships. My other leadership opportunities again, are through Educause, which is another nonprofit organization, where I’ve led one of their working groups, and I present regularly at their conferences, and I’ve–they’ve even thought some of what I’ve said has been thought-worthy–I’ve been asked to participate in podcasts about things that we’re doing here at RIT. But again, there are things that I was able to start, so I think understanding that your leadership path and your influence path is both within and outside your workplace is really important.

Alisa: Yeah, and especially as an independent. I don’t have a career path per se. I mean?what am I going– I’m the only one in my company–What am I going to be? I’m going to be the president. Oh, I am the president. Okay. Well, I’m also the writer. I’m also the administrator. I’m also the ITperson. I’m also–There’s no growth path here. I can change my clients. I can change the focus of my work, but it’s not like you’re going to see a progression in title or anything like that, so my leadership approaches have to be different. They have to come from a different place than in your standard “rising through the ranks” type of leadership.

Ben: So another thing about leadership that we’ve talked about, and we can pick it up in a couple of things, but one thing that you’ve mentioned to me in conversations in the past is that leadership is a journey. When we see leaders around, it can be, “How did they get to that point?” or, “They’ve always been that kind of person.” I know for me personally, my leadership path probably started many years ago, that I’m not really aware of, but it didn’t really start actively until about eight years ago. What have you found in terms of what you observe with others around leadership paths? What has yours been like and what recommendations would you have for introverts especially who want to become influencers or leaders?

Alisa: Well, I think it’s easy to look at someone that you see as a leader and you think they have always been a leader, right? You–you assume that these were the people who were the class president in high school. They think they’ve just always been in that leadership role and I was never that person. That wasn’t my personality. That wasn’t who I was. I didn’t really meet you. Look back on my career, I–it’s worked out beautifully and people say, well how did you put all this together? How did you have this plan? And I’m like, “Yeah, I had a plan. Right. Okay.” Because I had started out in healthcare years ago, like 20 plus years ago, and then when we moved to California it was during the first dotcom boom and there was no healthcare work to be had. It was all tech. I didn’t know anything about tech. I’d never done anything in tech in my life, but it didn’t matter, because there was such a shortage of available personnel that I got hired at a dotcom, because I had a pulse, basically. [laughing]

Alisa: I mean that was the only job requirement, so I ended up going from doing taxonomy and content at a startup which were a couple of network security companies. And broadening my horizons there on topics that I knew nothing about a few years earlier; and then ultimately getting back into healthcare, which is where I wanted to be in the first place, but, having the opportunity to get back into healthcare. But then that’s all dovetailed over the years to be Healthcare IT–all of the security, all of the security concerns surrounding HIPAA, surrounding personal health information, and people go, “Wow, it’s so amazing that you’ve planned your career this way, so that you find yourself in this healthcare IT arena.” And I’m like, “I planned that. Absolutely,!” [laughing]

Ben: And it’s interesting because 20 years ago some of these things didn’t even exist.

Alisa: Well, exactly. And it all seems like a series of seemingly random choices at the time. Right? When I was first graduating from college, I wouldn’t have imagined that some day I’d have my own business and be serving on a board of directors. I mean, who would’ve thought that? I-I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d have multiple international clients in Europe, or that I would have speaking engagements a few times a year, both domestically and internationally. But none of that would have happened if I’d just sat back and been the quiet one. I had to look for new approaches to my career, where I had to find those alternative leadership opportunities, where I could influence sort of laterally instead of just being placed in a leadership role. But it was more of the types of things like project management where I was influencing across groups and building consensus, and all things that work with my personality, but not necessarily things that I would have known about or would have sought in my natural tendencies.

Ben: Let’s say I’m a new practitioner. I’ve been a technical writer for a couple of years, or I’ve been a security person, or I’ve been in any kind of industry. It’s not really just confined to these industries. What advice would you have for me in terms of becoming an influencer? Becoming a leader? Is it important for me to become an influencer? Is it important for me to become a leader. How would I go about that?

Alisa: Well, I think it is important in terms of wanting to get some more visibility for yourself. I mean how, how are you going to, for, for lack of better explanation, sell yourself within the company? How are you going to prove your worth if you come in the first day doing X, and you leave five years later, still doing exactly the same thing? You need to grow and develop and learn things as you go, and in the process, you get exposed to a lot of different things. And so I think the part of the thing that you need to do when you’re young and that I did without realizing it, was taking on opportunities that were a little uncomfortable. That didn’t feel like they might’ve been a natural fit for me, because I only saw sort of what they were on the surface. But that really worked well with my personality type, because, as I said, project management–it may not be the thing that I want to do all day every day.

Alisa: But the skills that I learned in some of the more project management type roles that I did, have had a tremendous impact on what I do as an independent, and how I manage my projects, and how I manage clients, and how I balance work, and how I understand how the flow goes, and building consensus across groups and across language barriers, even. There’s a huge difference there from where I was 20 years ago to where I am now. And I think it just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience, because you can’t expect these things are going to–you’re going to take a slightly new role or take on a project and it’s going to change your life radically overnight. It’s a gradual process that builds over time as you are exposed to more and more.

Ben: I found that was the case for me as well. There are times I’d say, “Well, why couldn’t I have been doing this 10 years ago?” Or, “why didn’t I think…

Alisa: Right, because you weren’t in this place at the time.

Ben: I could not have done that because it’s that sum total of everything that has come up to this point in time that’s enabled me to actually do these things, and also even has provided the interest. Twenty years ago I didn’t think about personality types or temperaments or introverts or extroverts or even leadership at all. As I mentioned, the leadership progression for me is fairly new, but I found that I’ve become really passionate about it and passionate about helping other people become leaders, especially introverts, who often feel like there’s no place for them. So it’s really interesting the way–as you’ve put it–it’s all of these things that have come together to enable us to take these next steps. The other thing I thought that you said that was really important, was being willing to take steps that are outside of our comfort zone.

Alisa: Yeah, and it’s–I mean it’s so easy to say, “Well, I was this at my last company and I’ll continue to be–I’ll look for the same role in my next company,” or under the new management re-org or whatever it may be, but stretch a little. It’s good for you! Even if you decide that’s not the thing for me, I want to go back to what I was doing. You’re still taking the skills that you learned and bringing them back and it’ll make you better at what you were.

Ben: Anything else that you would like to pass on to our listeners?

Alisa: I think you just need to know that whatever your path is and whatever you might be thinking and whatever you’re stressing about, there is no right or wrong way. There is no one path. You just have to find the thing that works for you.

Ben: Great, so I think that’s wisdom and I thank you so much for sharing it with us. Thanks Alisa for sharing your thoughts today. We look forward to having you join us for another podcast in the future.

Alisa: Thanks, Ben. It’s been good to be here.

Extras

Alisa has a Twitter bot that is sometimes hysterical. https://twitter.com/alisa_ebooks

 

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Alisa Bonsignore headshot

Episode 005: Alisa Bonsignore–Public Speaker

Category:Introverted Leadership,Leadership,personality,Podcast,STC,Summit

Episode 005: Alisa Bonsignore–Public Speaker Show Notes

Introduction

Alisa Bonsignore is the principal of Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area with clients around the world. We discuss public speaking and the stress and value of Q&A, and how being an introvert with the INFJ temperament type affects her roles.

  • Twitter: @ClearWriter
  • Email: hello@clarifyingcomplexideas.com

Key concepts

  • Keirsey Temperament Theory
  • Public speaking and stress
  • Empathy
  • Situations and scenarios
  • Counseling

Quotable

As an adult, you associate public speaking with your experience as a student, and when you’re a student, you’re up there and somebody is grading you and they’re looking for ways you’re doing it wrong.

They’re in your talk for a reason, and they’re not there to criticize you or to grade you or to challenge you. They’re there because you have something that they want to learn about and when you shift that mindset that you have something valuable to say, it really changes your perspective on speaking.

Instead of listening to the surface, I understand the subtext of things a lot better, which is incredibly helpful with getting to the real problem instead of just painting over the problem that seems to be at the surface.

What brings the consensus here… is that we could do this other thing and that would solve everybody’s problems. And people go, “Oh, well, I was so wedded to my idea… that it never occurred to me that there was another option.” …It’s a lot like counseling, actually–family counseling–family counseling for groups and teams. .

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Alisa Bonsignore. Alisa runs Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area. Her professional mission is to create clarity and build engagement, giving people the information they need when they need it. Alisa helps companies communicate complicated topics, including policy development and sustainability communications surrounding the UN sustainable development goals (SDG), medical devices and pharmaceuticals/genomics, network security, and healthcare information technology. You can contact Alisa at hello@clarifyingcomplexideas.com or on Twitter @Clearwriter.

Ben: Thank you for joining us again, Alisa. I look forward to us continuing our conversation!

Ben: One thing that Alisa and I have talked about previously is where we stand on Keirsey Temperament theory and where our MBTI letters come out, and Alisa is an INFJ, which is typically a counselor-type role. She’s very cognizant of the people issues that are going on. I’m an INTJ, which can be described as architect or scientist, or the one I really like, mastermind, but the problem with that is that I’m not always attuned to what’s going on with the people. And one of the ways this has been described is that, say that you’re on an ocean liner and the engine breaks down. As the INTJ, I would be down in the engine room–assuming I had any of those mechanical skills–I would be down in the engine room trying to figure out how to get it started. Alisa would be busy making sure that the people got off the ship, so there’s definitely a focus difference in terms of this rational versus idealist-type traits, the way that Keirsey puts it. And I think that this is an example then because I don’t necessarily tend to think of what were the motivations? Why was this person saying this? Sometimes I do, but probably not nearly as often as I should.

Alisa: And see, that’s a huge thing for me because it’s a huge part of figuring out when people contact me and say, “I need you to do this urgent project and here’s my rationale for why,” I can usually by the time I’ve talked it through with them, figure out you’re saying on the surface that it’s because of this, but really, the pressure’s coming from another source and let’s talk a little bit more about that. Maybe this isn’t actually what you need. You need a solution to this other problem that you think is this item, but actually your problem could be fixed with a different approach.

Ben: Alisa, one thing that I’ve had conversations with other guests on this podcast is presenting. Now, all of us that have talked so far on the podcast have been introverts. All of us present fairly often, but when we talk to people who–whether they’re extrovert or introvert, many people are totally intimidated by the idea of speaking in front of groups. What is your experience been speaking in front of groups? How did you get started? What have you found that’s helpful, and any interesting anecdotes that you could share?

Alisa: [laughing] So I actually started–my presentation life was doing a lot of sales training for different clients or different in-house companies that I worked for–so it was working with select groups on select topics, but what I realized pretty early on, is that as an adult, you-you associate public speaking with your experience as a student, and when you’re a student, you’re up there and somebody is grading you and they’re looking for ways you’re doing it wrong. Right? So when I was in high school at one point I had to recite Hamlet’s monologue–the “To be or not to be,” right? And of course my teacher’s sitting there listening to make sure that I get every word exactly right. There’s a different level of pressure there when you’re trying to make sure that you have memorized exactly every word in exactly the right order to communicate what you need to do to get the grade.

Alisa: By the time you’re an adult, nobody’s grading you, and you don’t realize this right away [laughing]–what you’re up there doing–you have a purpose up there. You’re up there telling people something that they actually want to hear–especially if you’re speaking at a conference. I mean, maybe not at a sales meeting–they might just have rolled in because they have to roll in and listen to you–but at a conference especially, there are other choices. These people could be at another session. They could be out having coffee with a friend. They could be blowing off the conference entirely and boondoggling with their employer. Who knows, right? But they’re in your talk for a reason, and they’re not there to criticize you or to grade you or to challenge you. They’re there because you have something that they want to learn about and when you shift that mindset that you have something valuable to say, it really changes your perspective on speaking.

Alisa: Now, having said that, that’s not to say that it’s not stressful in its own way. I like to approach every talk as if it’s a conversation, so I pick a couple of people in the room that I can sort of speak to and feel like I’m having a conversation with. I can make eye contact with them. I can communicate with them directly rather than feeling like I’m just talking to a large, faceless group. That definitely helps. But, in spite of that, I’ve also discovered that I still get a little bit stressed about the whole thing. Even though on the surface everything seems calm, I still get a little stressed. So it happened to be that one day I was giving a talk at a local STC chapter, and earlier that day I had gone in for a routine appointment with my cardiologist, and because I hadn’t had a Holter monitor–the portable monitor–in several years, they wanted to do just a follow-up check to make sure everything’s the same, blah, blah blah.

Alisa: So I ended up going to my talk completely rigged up–wires everywhere–this apparatus hanging from my belt. I-I look like a crazy person and I’ve tried to like pull my sweater up over my neck. Right? But nobody knows that I’ve got this on, hopefully. But, here I am. I’m fully rigged up like a patient. Right? And so I go through the whole talk and everything seemed fine and I’m really good through the part that I have rehearsed and practiced, whatever. And then we get to the Q&A [laughing], and later when the doctor called back and was like, “Um, so about what were you doing at this time?” I’m like, “Oh, that was the question and answer portion of my conversation.” [laughing] Literally, my heart rate had gone above my target heart rate for like running sprints. It was just completely through the roof.

Alisa: And I–I didn’t–I mean I know that there’s a little bit of anxiety there, but I had no idea that it was really like above 180 beats per minute. [laughing] This is some serious stress here! But, this also explains why I feel so exhausted when it’s all done. I put all of my energy into this, but you can only script so much of it and then–then you’re let loose with the Q&A and the conversation, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. [laughing] So apparently that, that unnerves me a little bit, a little bit more than I realized.

Ben: Yeah, that is such a funny anecdote and you said you were aware that you were a little stressed, but you–I guess you didn’t have any idea how much until you actually saw it measured.

Alisa: No, no. You get that sort of, [inhaling] okay, what’s this person going to ask me? There’s a little bit of nerves there, but I had no idea it was that level of cardiac response! [laughing]

Ben: So, I guess one solution would be not to leave any time for questions and answers at the end of a presentation…

Alisa: Yeah, but the Q&A is actually the best part. I mean this is where you have really good conversations with people and once–once I’m into–once they’ve asked me the question, and I–we’re having that conversation, the one-on-one. It’s great, but there’s that moment before they begin where it’s like, [inhaling] “Ooh, what are they going to say? [laughing] I don’t know if I’m prepared. Will I have an answer?” There’s nerves there more so than I had imagined.

Ben: That’s amazing. It’s such a good story.

Ben: Another question for you here–part of what we’re doing during the series, during the Hope for the Introvert podcasts, is talking about our biggest strengths and how we leverage them, and also the biggest challenges we face. What do you believe your biggest strengths are as an introvert? And in what ways do you see that you’ve leveraged them?

Alisa: So as you were saying earlier about my feeler status, right? I’m the empath. I feel what people are needing and experiencing. I think that I have leveraged my ability to understand people’s motives. I think that that’s really gone a long way from like, instead of listening to the surface, I understand the subtext of things a lot better, which is incredibly helpful with getting to the real problem instead of just painting over the problem that seems to be at the surface. But I think for me–right, but it’s also because I’m a good listener. It’s the fact that I’m not always the one talking. I mean, you watch the extroverts in the meetings, right? They’re not getting the feedback. They’re always pushing information out. They’re always talking. And if you’re always talking, you’re probably not listening. So, from my perspective, I’m the one who’s listening to everybody and generally not talking, so I’m not only hearing, I’m watching the nuance that’s going on and how people are responding to each other and how the dynamic is going in addition to the actual words that are being said, and the emotion that’s being conveyed or whatever it might be going on in the room. So I’m good for that.

Alisa: I’m good at identifying customers’ pain points because I can feel the pain. It’s the empathy thing, right?” But I can understand in context, if we’re writing documentation for–let’s say that my client is selling the ventilators to assist with breathing in the hospital, right? Well, if we’re writing one kind of documentation for the initial setup, that’s one thing, because you’ve got somebody who rolls in in the middle of the day in a normal situation and plugs it in and tests it and sees that it’s working, and whatever. But it’s a very different thing, if you’re trying to do a troubleshooting document, because it could be three in the morning. You could have a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, a whatever, a ton of people coming in. You’re triaging people. You need to get the ventilator working. It’s not working. How does this work? Oh my God, you’re not at your peak of attention or focus or clarity. How do you find a clear and easy way to help this person get the device back online? Right?

Alisa: So understanding the situations and the scenarios and how to make–how to create the best tools for people in their various situations–I’m pretty good at that. I’m pretty good at understanding where we need to simplify, where we need more detail, that kind of thing. But, and I think from a client perspective, my J of my INFJ is Judging, which means that I’m task oriented and I haven’t missed a deadline in my life. [laughing] That’s just not something I do. So as an independent, this is incredibly useful to my clients because I’m very reliable. They know that not only will I meet the deadline, I’ll probably have it in early, and one of my clients once said to me, you know, you return everything early. I know that if you ever miss a deadline, you’re probably dead. [laughing]

Ben: Hmm. It’s interesting and part of being that individual contributor, working with the clients, sometimes you can set deadlines that are realistic in that you can–you can achieve those deadlines or you can turn things in in advance of those deadlines. So that can be a really big deal.

Ben: One other thing that you had said in terms of being a very, very good listener. One thing that’s important there I think, and we’re talking about the extrovert-introvert difference here, and I don’t want to paint extroverts with too broad a brush, but there is often a case where people are waiting to say what they want to say and so they’re just waiting for the other person to finish, so they can jump in with what they wanted to contribute, and I think what I’m hearing from you is that you’re more willing to sit back, let the conversation happen, and then bring up pertinent points when appropriate, rather than, “Oh, oh, oh! I know what I want to say here. Please finish up talking so I can say what I want to say.” So I think that’s one of the big differences, and again, I would not accuse all extroverts of doing that, nor would I say that I’m never guilty of that myself.

Alisa: No, no. But there are definitely people who–introvert or extrovert–there are definitely people whose meeting persona is more dominant and people whose meeting persona is more reserved, and I’m definitely one of the more reserved people, because–I am just not by my nature–I’m just not the person who gets into the thick of things in a large group, inasmuch as, “Okay. So we’ve been talking about this for half an hour. You’ve said this, you’ve said this, you’ve said this.” What brings the consensus here is that what we could do is that we could do this other thing and that would solve everybody’s problems. And people go, “Oh, well, I was so wedded to my idea and I was so wedded to my idea that it never occurred to me that there was another option.” Right? So yeah, it’s a lot like counseling, actually. Family counseling, family counseling for groups and teams. [laughing]

Ben: Which gets into your whole INFJ counselor temperament type again.

Alisa: Right, exactly!

Ben: We’ve enjoyed today’s conversation and look forward to continuing the conversation in our next podcast.

Extras

Alisa has a Twitter bot that is sometimes hysterical. https://twitter.com/alisa_ebooks

Animated .GIF of Alisa as a speaker

 

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Episode 004: Alisa Bonsignore–Introverted Entrepreneur

Category:Introverted Leadership,introverts,Podcast,STC,Summit

Episode 004: Alisa Bonsignore–Introverted Entrepreneur Show Notes

Alisa Bonsignore headshotIntroduction

Alisa Bonsignore is the principal of Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area with clients around the world. We discuss how and why she transitioned from a corporate job to becoming a solo entrepreneur and the challenges she faces as an introvert in that role. We also chat about overcoming reticence in meetings.

  • Twitter: @ClearWriter
  • Email: hello@clarifyingcomplexideas.com

Key concepts

  • Solo entrepreneurship
  • International clients
  • Entry points
  • Turning layoffs into opportunities
  • Soul-sucking meetings
  • Cultivating reliable clients
  • The importance of management encouragement
  • Subtext

Quotable

Once I come in the door they realize that I have these skills and I can make things very accessible for the reader…people go, “Oh, but I could use that for this project or that project.”

And for me, meetings are particularly draining, because as an introvert, being in meetings is just–it just sucks my soul, especially if it’s not a productive meeting.

I tended to be extremely quiet in meetings for many years… almost to the point of invisibility, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t have ideas.

You’ve got the dominant personalities and they’re sort of fighting it out in a way in the meeting itself. But sometimes, it’s not until later on where you get away from the noise, where it starts to make sense, what people actually meant, like… the subtext of what they’re actually asking for.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Alisa Bonsignore. Alisa runs Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area. Her professional mission is to create clarity and build engagement, giving people the information they need when they need it. Alisa helps companies communicate complicated topics, including policy development and sustainability communications surrounding the UN sustainable development goals (SDG), medical devices and pharmaceuticals/genomics, network security, and healthcare information technology. You can contact Alisa at hello@clarifyingcomplexideas.com or on Twitter @clearwriter

Ben: Alisa and I have been friends for several years and first met each other at a Society for Technical Communication Summit Conference in Sacramento, and I believe that was around 2012 or so. Alisa helps administer the Introverted Leadership Slack community and provided her insights for the “Introvert in the Workplace–Becoming an Influencer and Leader,” published in Intercom magazine, May-June 2018. Alisa also contributed an article, Introverted Entrepreneurship–Embracing Your Introvert Skills,” in February of 2017. if you’re attending a conference, so you can often find Alisa and me at events hanging out on the periphery and chatting. We are introverts after all!

Ben: Alisa, many introverts face challenges in their workplace. However, you’re a solo entrepreneur, so your experience maybe a bit different than that of others. What is your workplace like?

Alisa: I work from a home office, which is actually ideal for me. I know a lot of people don’t enjoy the home office environment because they feel like there are too many distractions. There’s the television, there’re other things to do, there’s the kitchen. I know a lot of people have trouble with the kitchen [laughing], but for me it’s actually ideal, because I feel like I get a lot more done because I don’t have the interruptions; I don’t have the people popping into the office needing to chat with me or requesting meetings. Most of my clients are based in Europe–well a lot of them anyway. And with the nine hour time difference that means by my 9:00 AM, most of them are gone for the day, so I do a lot of early conference calls. I get my meetings out of the way and then I have the entire day to be flexible and work at my own pace without interruption, and it’s just perfect for me.

Ben: What kind of work do you do?

Alisa: I’m primarily a writer and an editor. I provide communications consulting to companies, usually large companies (but some startups) around their communications plans, and that can range from anything from their marketing communications to more of their technical communications to a broader content strategy to policies and procedures. There’s a lot of things that that sort of fall into that. Once I come in the door they realize that I have these skills and I can make things very accessible for the reader, and then I’m sort of shuffled around from group to group where people go, “Oh, but I could use that for this project or that project.” But, a lot of what I come in the door for tends to be somewhere between technical communication and marketing. It’s more of your white papers and things like that where you need to explain really difficult technical or clinical concepts to ordinary people in plain language. And that’s usually my entry point. But, then I do a lot of things from there.

Ben: That’s interesting. So how long have you been doing the solo entrepreneur thing and what did you do previous to that?

Alisa: So I was doing it part time, sort of, the nighttime freelance writer for several years. But this full-time version of it started about 12 years ago. right after my son was born. I had been working in-house at that time, at a medical device company. It was right here in town. The commute was great. I loved my boss. I loved my team. Everything was wonderful, and I came back from maternity leave, and three days later they announced that they were shutting the entire office down and moving to Boulder, Colorado. So that pretty much put things into perspective and I said, “Okay. Maybe maybe it’s time to do the freelance thing that I’ve been talking about before.” So, that’s what kicked me out the door. And it does help when you’re starting out that you have 400 people in your building who have now scattered to the wind, because those 400 people carry your name with them to wherever they go. So, that was a really good starting point, actually. It was a bit of a kick in the butt, but it was a–It ended up being very helpful.

Ben: So what happened was you had thought about launching this and then you were…

Alisa: Well, so we had talked for years about if and when we ever had kids, that that would be a really good time to go freelance because of the flexibility and the options there, and I wouldn’t be tied down to an office where it was more difficult, right? So we talked about it, but I was in a really good situation at the time so I had no intention of quitting and moving on, because it was really working well for me, because it was a, as I said, a good group and a good manager, and I was really enjoying the situation that I was in until it wasn’t there anymore.

Ben: It’s always interesting what provides the impetus for change and, at least in my experience from many times, it doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily ready, even though we were certainly thinking about moving in that direction. So, in terms of your previous workplace, right now you’re working from home by yourself, you have a good deal of control (or at least the illusion of control) when you have conversations scheduled and things like that. What was it like for you when you were in a corporate workplace?

Alisa: So I think my corporate experience was a lot like what most communicators find in a corporate experience, which is that, as a communicator, you have several different clients internally. You’re not just typically writing for one product manager, or one engineer, or one whatever. You’ve got a lot of people who are pulling you in a lot of different directions, which means that you have a lot of meetings, and a lot of busy time that you might not necessarily be accomplishing, but you’re sucked into a lot of the time. [laughing] And for me, that’s particularly draining, because as an introvert, being in meetings is just–it just sucks my soul, especially if it’s not a productive meeting. I mean, the meetings that I have now with my clients, especially since most of them are Swedish and German, we get on the phone, we talk about what needs to be talked about. We get on, we get off, we move on with our day. It’s not the lingering, 12 people on a conference call. “Hi, who’s this?” “Who dialed in?” “Oh, well it’s Bob here.” You’re not drifting out into that sort of thing.

Alisa: It’s a much more pointed meeting and a much more relevant meeting than what I used to have, and as is the nature of any cubicle farm, when you’re in house, people just pop by, and they’ve got things they want to talk about, and they may be work related and they may not be work related, but they suck your day. [laughing] I found that I wasn’t really getting as much accomplished as I wanted to at the time, because it was–there was so much brain power going into the meetings and the time going into the meetings, and it wasn’t really giving me the time to just sort of have uninterrupted time to do what I was really supposed to be doing.

Ben: So, it sounds like there’s a bit of a cultural difference with your current meetings over the typical in-house meeting as well.

Alisa: Well, and I think too, maybe it’s–just a part of it’s cultural– with the type of culture in Sweden, Germany, but part of it too, I think, is it’s a lot easier when it’s a one-on-one call. You’re either both there or you’re both not, and when you’re there you’re not sitting around waiting for somebody else to dial in, and it’s not that waste of time with all the useless chitter-chatter for 15 minutes. It’s, we’re both on, okay, here’s what we have to cover. Boom, boom, boom. Now we’re done. Great. Have a great day.

Ben: In terms of your current entrepreneurial position, what do you find challenging as an introvert? I know based on what we’ve talked about here and talked about previously, you are able to at least somewhat structure your day. What do you find to be a challenge as an introvert?

Alisa: So I think that onboarding new clients is always a challenge, because you always have to be selling. You always have to be networking, right? So this is why I’ve done a really good job over the years of cultivating reliable clients that I know that I can go back to again and again, because I don’t want to have to do that relationship building. That’s draining to me, because it’s selling. It’s about selling myself. It’s about proving that I can do what they need to have done. That’s exhausting. It’s like job interviewing every time you do it and certainly I prefer not to do that. [laughing] So over the years I’ve done a really good job of really cultivating good people, and even within a company filtering down the people that I want to work with in that company, even if it’s a good company overall to work with, that doesn’t mean that everybody is good to work with within the company.

Alisa: I’ve definitely worked on tha t so that I’m doing less selling, which is helpful to me psychologically, but also it helps because I’m not having to do all of the administrative chasing. So I’m not having to worry about setting up the vendor as a vendor and all these different companies and I’m not worrying about as much how to–who do I contact if I don’t get paid, I already have my contacts, I already know who to reach and it makes it a lot simpler to work with at that time.

Ben: So do you pretty much do all of the, all of your business responsibilities yourself?

Alisa: Yeah, it’s all me.

Ben: So no virtual assistant or anything like that at all?

Alisa: No, no, just all me.

Ben: Alisa, you had talked about meetings and how meetings can be challenging when they’re in a corporate environment, because when you’ve got everybody catching up with everybody to see however you want is doing, but you also have the issue where you may be in a meeting with many, many people, but there’s only a small portion of it where you’re really active in the meeting. Now, for me that is multitasking time, which may or may not be a good thing. (Especially if somebody addresses something to you and you’ve been busy working on something else for half an hour.) So what else–was there anything else that you found challenging about being in a corporate meeting?

Alisa: Well,  yeah, I mean especially in a lot of my roles I’ve had to deal with people who are a lot more extroverted than I am, and that means that they talk a lot. When there are people in the room who are dominating the conversation, it’s not my style to dominate the conversation. I mean, I’ll speak up when I have something that I really need to say, but I’m also not the kind of person who will typically talk over somebody else to make that happen. So if you’re in a room with sales, if you’re in a room with that manager who’s really just like loud and dominating and aggressive or whatever, it’s very hard for me to butt in and be like, “But wait, I have a thought here.” It’s not really–it’s not really my style.

Alisa: So, I tended to be extremely quiet in meetings for many years to the point where–almost to the point of invisibility, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t have ideas. I would be much more inclined after I’d had some time, we’d all met and after we leave the room, sort of like when somebody insults you, you get the great comeback later. After a meeting I walk away and 12 steps out the door, I’m like, I get it now. I know exactly what we need to do because I’ve had a few seconds to process what everybody has been saying and where everybody’s coming from, and come up with a solution that works for everybody, which might not come to me on the fly in the meeting itself.

Ben: Was this anything that your management ever mentioned to you at all? I had a conversation, which is on another episode of this podcast,  with a friend whose manager actually described her-to her face-in a meeting as being a slow thinker.

Alisa: [laughing] No, nobody ever thought that I was a slow thinker to my knowledge. Nobody ever said it to me anyway, but I definitely think that there was the perception–well, I feel like there’s the perception that writers in general are quieter people. I mean we’re not expected to be keeping pace with sales in terms of our conversation and our–our loudness in our domination, right? We are–we are generally,–most writers that you work with are generally more reticent than others. So I don’t think it was completely unexpected, but in my last in-house job, my boss was like, “No, you know what you’re talking about. Get in there and just barge right in and do it!” She was much more encouraging of that–not that anybody else had been discouraging–but she was much more, “Why are you not saying something?”

Alisa: “Well, because, I’m not–I’m not going to interrupt the vice president of something or other who thinks he’s got this grand plan.” And she’s like, “No. Somebody has to interrupt him. This is nothing. This isn’t smart. What do you say? You really got to get in there and do it! Tell them what you think, and do–do what needs to be done!” And so there was much more push there from her, so she was really good for encouraging me that way as opposed to the-the negative encouragement of others. No, she was–she definitely gave me some positive reinforcement.

Ben: It’s interesting because I tend to be reticent, and not that you would believe that now either! [laughing] I tend to be reticent in meetings or at least I have in the past, but for me to feel like I’m going to interrupt this vice president, even though I know this person is wrong in what they’re doing, feels a little bit about, “Oh, look, the emperor has new clothes!” And I don’t want to be that person who points that thing out. But obviously, I’m thinking it, whether I’m–whether I’m saying it out loud or not. [Alisa laughing] So I definitely empathize with what you’re talking about in terms of being hesitant to interrupt. And even now, even as “glib”  as I can be for an introvert in meetings, there’re so many times it’s like, “Oh, I should have said something about that.” “I need to talk to this person afterwards, because they didn’t come across the way they thought they did,” or, “that really might not work the way you think it’s going to,” and for whatever reason, and I’m definitely not always right, but for whatever reason, those flaws usually jump out when I hear them or especially if I read them.

Ben: So, meeting behavior can definitely be a bit of a challenge?

Alisa: Yes. Yeah, for me, a lot of what goes on in conversation–there’s–you’ve got the dominant personalities and they’re sort of fighting it out in a way in the meeting itself. But sometimes, it’s not until later on where you get away from the noise, where it starts to make sense, what people actually meant, like what was the subtext of what they’re actually asking for. They may be barking about needing X, but really, the reason why they’re barking about that, is because they’re under pressure about Y, and–“Oh, if we can address that, then X becomes less relevant. We don’t have to fight about X.” Right?

Ben: Looking forward to the second part of our conversation.

Extras

Alisa has a Twitter bot that is sometimes hysterical. https://twitter.com/alisa_ebooks

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