Episode 008: Kirk St Amant–Reflective Listener and Leader

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Kirk St Amant headshot

Episode 008: Kirk St Amant–Reflective Listener and Leader

Category:Higher Education,introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Podcast,Social Networking

Episode 008: Kirk St Amant–Active Listener and Leader Show Notes

Introduction

Kirk and I discuss what it’s like being “on” as an , and his introvert strengths of being a reflective listener and being able to tease out details to help people focus and express their ideas. Kirk has some interesting comments on public speaking as well. 

Key concepts

  • Being a reflective listener
  • Teasing out detail
  • Debilitating stage fright
  • Being who you are
  • The echo chamber of social media

Quotable

And I think that’s a major challenge for introverts, is trying to maximize that ability you have to sit and listen, balanced against the expectation that we should have an extroverted communication style for the most part. And helping individuals realize that silence is not necessarily a negative thing.

I’m not the ideal person you want in sort of an outreach season. I’m not a meet-and-greet kind of person. I’m not going to be the person who walks into the room and introduces myself to every single person there, but I am the person who is willing to sit there and listen to everybody who wants to come through and talk about what needs to be done differently or better next time.

I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to be who you are and the biggest impediment is for individuals to think they’ve got to become an extrovert to be successful. Or they’ve got to force their way to be an extrovert in a certain way. We’ve all got to be introverts or extroverts over the course of our professional lives. That’s a given, but it’s got to be according to parameters that work for you with your personality….

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Transcript

Ben: Kirk, it’s great to have you back again. Today we’re going to continue our discussion about what it’s like to be an introvert in the workplace and for you specifically to be an introvert in academia. So one of the things we’ve asked our guests is, what do you find to be most challenging as an introvert in your profession?

Kirk: Great question. The need to be on. And by on. I mentioned earlier, you pretend to be an extrovert in many cases and so the need to be on during these instructional times–and these aren’t just in the classroom teaching the class, but they’re in the hallway talking with students. They’re during office hours, being with students and in many cases, I mean you can go for an entire day where you’re in complete “On mode” for eight to ten hours a day, between teaching and meeting with students and talking with students and meeting with colleagues and stuff. And that can be exhausting and I think it’s a matter of–I don’t know about you or other introverts–but I need decompression time after this happens. And it’s kind of helping people realize that I’m going to not be interacting a whole lot for this next little bit here, because I just need time to sit and breathe and just be alone for a little bit.

Kirk: That’s the thing. One challenge. And I think the other challenge is whenever you create sort of this persona of the extrovert teacher, if you will, in the classroom, students come to expect that of you every time they encounter you. And so when they meet you out in the community and begin to engage with you and they realize you don’t talk a lot, and my word, you’re dull, well, yes, I probably am. [Ben laughing] So it’s kind of helping them realize that no, this, this thing in the classroom is kind of, this is what I do in that particular venue and this is who I am most of the rest of the time. So I think that’s kind of the big challenges. Making these worlds meet if you will, and getting other individuals you work with to adapt to them, that this is okay. This is how this person works.

The challenge is whenever you create sort of this persona of the extrovert teacher, if you will, in the classroom, students come to expect that of you every time they encounter you. Click To Tweet

Kirk: I think many of us do this, whether introverts or extroverts. It’s a spectrum. We move back and forth between different points on it and so I think getting individuals to understand that we’re not all one or all the other, but we move back and forth, and don’t take this as meaning anything other than the fact that I’m in my decompression time right now. I’m not trying to be the classic things that we’re probably all accused of–aloof, silent, quiet, you know, standoffish, whatever it might be. That this is just who I am and kind of getting individuals to realize, oh no, this is just another facet of that person’s personality. I think that’s a great challenge because they’re so accustomed to seeing you in this ON mode, if you will.

Ben: Yeah, and I’ve mentioned in prior podcasts talking with friends that we see each other at conferences and that’s the only other time people really see us and what they see at conferences is not how we are in our private life. We may appear to be very outgoing, but it does drain us and we do need to get that time where we can just go away, retreat and recharge.

Kirk: Yes, it’s essential. [laughing]

Ben: Kirk, what do you believe are your biggest strengths as an introvert and how have you leveraged them?

Kirk: I think they are twofold. I think one is listening and it’s the ability to want to sit and listen and process. I think we do cue behavior in terms of, yes, I understand, to kind of prompt the conversation, but to want to let the other party talk as much as is needed and simply listen and process there as they’re speaking I think is a great asset. I think another great asset is, let’s call it this tenacious desire, to want to tease out details as people are speaking. So one of the things that I’ve had people kind of been confused about with my behavior is they’ll present something to me and then I’ll follow up with a slew of questions before I say anything. And that slew of questions is essentially designed to focus in on what the person is talking about–to actually try to get to the heart of what is the specific focus we should be addressing. And I think that’s a strength, because it helps the person you’re speaking with–and you also–realize what the actual thing you wish to focus on is. And in many cases, then you can work backwards from that focus to figure out what’s the overall situation you’re talking about. I’ve got a problem. Well, when does it happen? Where does it happen? What seems to be present when it’s–when it’s taking place? What seems to be the cause…? You’re zoning in on what is actually the nature of the problem and you can work out from that,

Kirk: I think they’re sort of focused questioning in relation to exchanges where you ask the person you’re interacting with to focus in on or zone in on that thing they’re talking about. I think that’s greatly beneficial, as one thing that introverts tend to do is to want to focus in on very specific things through sort of targeted, repeated questioning, “There’s this problem.” “Well, tell me about it. Where does it happen? When does it seem to happen? What seems to be causing it? What seems to be the environment that’s causing it?” To sort of focus in until you really get to the heart of the matter, I think is beneficial and I think it’s something many introverts do inherently, and I think it’s helpful both for the person with whom you’re speaking and for you because you begin to better understand the nature of what you’re going to be talking about. What is actually the problem we’re discussing. Can we get to it? And so I think that’s a strength that…at least in my mind.

Ben: I’m laughing a little bit as you’re talking about this, and mainly because I know that for me and my temperament type, I’m not the most patient person in the world, and I lose focus when people meander when they’re talking to me. And I’m seeing this as this is a way to kind of get them focused and, as you mentioned, it’s good for them. It’s good for you. Also.

Kirk: Maybe, Ben, you’ve experienced the same thing, but there’s a tendency I think for many introverts to focus in on things. You mentioned like what your temperament is. Is it your temperament, or you process information in a certain way? So it’s like, no, can we keep it this way because I’m gonna process down this line of thought first and we can come back to that other thing later. And I think that’s a benefit, because it helps the person with whom you’re interacting kind of focus in on what they’re talking about. And let’s face it, I’m doing it right now. We tend to talk all over the place as we’re extemporaneous–extemporaneizing on stuff. (God, I think I just made up a word) [Ben laughing], as you’re kind of going and that kind of focus helps bring things back. And again, I think that’s something that tends to be associated with introverted behavior as far as I understand it. Those are what I see as the strengths, the ability to listen and then to ask questions to try to guide in on things.

Kirk: At the same time, I think those are weaknesses, and by weaknesses I mean, people have certain perceptions of what that behavior means, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with interacting a lot with introverts who operate in that way. And so I’m willing to bet you and many other introverts have encountered things like, you know, this person is, they’re passive, they’re standoffish. They’re not necessarily positive things that come with a lack of desire to communicate continually in the moment, or the dogged pursuit of trying to focus questions in on things. You mentioned, for example, temperament and not being patient with things. Well that’s, you know, again, notice you’re contextualizing that in a certain way, which is not, it’s contextualized as negative, but it doesn’t have to be. And I think that’s a major challenge for introverts, is trying to maximize that ability you have to sit and listen, balanced against the expectation that we should have an extroverted communication style for the most part. And helping individuals realize that silence is not necessarily a negative thing.

Kirk: I hope that made sense.

Ben: No, I think it does.

Ben: And “silence”. I am married to an extrovert and she finds silence difficult to deal with because she’s processing–she processes verbally. But then when she gets silence in response, she doesn’t know what the other person–if it’s an introvert like me–she doesn’t necessarily know what the other person is thinking about things because they are processing it internally and not verbally, and that’s been one of those challenges we’ve learned to work through over the years. It’s interesting, because I had referred to temperament and patience. I’m getting a little–I don’t want to go deep into it–but looking at the Keirsey Temperament Theory, and I know we haven’t talked about this kind of stuff much at all, but where I fit in that as a Rational–not irrational, but some may beg to differ–but a Rational and I am all about kind of objective, “Let’s get to the point” sort of thing. So that’s why I’m referencing that temperament part where the touchy-feely stuff doesn’t–I don’t empathize well, I guess is what it really boils down to. I’m more interested in “Oh, is there a problem here?” Let’s work on the problem sort of thing rather than just being available to listen. So I, even as an introvert, I have to watch myself in terms of wanting to jump in and provide a solution when there’s not necessarily even a solution that’s being asked for.

Kirk: Gotcha.

Ben: So in terms of your profession, in terms of the Society for Technical Communication and I think American Medical Writers Association, in what ways have you been an influencer or leader?

Kirk: I think in many ways it’s the ability to have discussions with folks. And again, the ability to–I want to listen to what you have to say and let me ask some questions to try to tease this out. I think that way I think is very beneficial. There are times for different kinds of leadership. There are times you need extroverted leadership and there are times when you need introverted leadership, and I think in a few cases I’ve been fortunate where I’ve hit at the time where that desire for let’s pull back and be introspective about this for a bit has been beneficial. Before doing a lot of the stuff I do with the STC, I was involved with an academic organization called the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communications, CPTSC, (there’s a mouthful,) and it was at a time I think where the organization needed to sort of stop for a moment and take a breath and figure out where it was going to go next.

Kirk: And in that case, I think that, you know, the fact that I’m a little bit more on the reserved side was beneficial. I’m not the ideal person you want in sort of an outreach season. I’m not a meet-and-greet kind of person. I’m not going to be the person who walks into the room and introduces myself to every single person there, but I am the person who is willing to sit there and listen to everybody who wants to come through and talk about what needs to be done differently or better next time. And I think again, we’re back to those sort of balance things. I think you probably have experienced this also, but from my perspective, the best thing to do is to have a leadership team, if you will. Where you do have an introvert and an extrovert who are both working together in some sort of leadership position, and I think that way you can really maximize the benefits of both personality types. And I’ve been very fortunate in the past to have been in a situation where I have worked with some people who were just amazing extroverts, but knew how to work with an introvert also and vice versa.

Ben: Oh, very cool. So what recommendations would you have for introverts who want to become influencers or leaders?

Kirk: I think it’s a matter of figuring out what benefits you bring as a leader, and again, as introverts, there’s a tendency to listen more–to want to think through fully before responding–and then to be very careful in how you articulate responses. I think that’s a very, very good sort of skill set to have and as a matter of figuring out at what point in time do I need to use that skill set based upon the needs of the organization or the group. And I think it’s also a matter of figuring out what are my “limitations” as a leader because I’m not an extrovert, what methods can I use to address that? I might not be the best public speaker on earth, but I’m pretty good at blog posts, so maybe I’ll do more leadership through these kinds of postings, then I will through podcasts or to public orations if you will.

Kirk: So it’s a matter of realizing there are other ways to achieve this objective of, as a leader, building a sense of community, reaching out to others. It’s a matter of what works with my personality type. I think as introverts we all have kinds of crutches for lack of a better way of putting it, for addressing situations. I’ll be honest with you, Ben, you’ve seen me speak before, right? Okay. One thing you’ll notice and people have bugged me about this, I take off my glasses when I talk, and the reason I do that is because I am–can’t see a thing without them and so it works magic for me because I really–I don’t have to worry about that sort of, I’m standing up in front of a group of people and worried about how I’m going to behave. I can’t see them. I’m lucky if I don’t walk into a wall, you know, but it’s a behavior that you learned to sort of, I’ve got to be the extrovert in the situation. We’ve all learned these different kinds of mechanisms to help us at work in these situations and it’s learning what they are and using them effectively.

Ben: It’s funny, because in my conversation with Alisa, we talked about presentation styles and for her, the key thing is to ensure that she has eye contact with one or two members of the audience to be able to engage with them and to be able to present with them. I had no idea. I think I remember you taking your glasses off. It wasn’t really apparent to me at that point, but that that’s hysterical–that you can’t see–that you do better not being able to see people to see their reactions, which in theory should make you really good at doing webinars also. [Kirk laughing] But it’s just funny because of the different approaches that we have.

Kirk: Uh huh. And it’s–we’ve all got a mechanism that we’ve designed that works for us, and it’s back to what is that mechanism? Can we really maximize it? The whole “take off my glasses and talk,” like I have debilitating stage fright. Without that I’m not speaking, but it works in large group settings where I’m communicating to a crowd. In smaller group discussions, I’ve got to be very careful about making sure I put my glasses on often enough to see what’s going on to interact. And so, it’s just learning those different behaviors and norms and realizing I didn’t realize how much I pick up on nonverbal cues in terms of just how the audience sounds, because I really can’t see them or because I can’t see their faces, I’ve become a lot more attuned to their body posture because I can see forms. I just can’t see faces. And so just realizing, oh wow, these are things that I was really picking up on before that I hadn’t realized.

Ben: Yeah, it’s–this is a really interesting discussion. I don’t know how many people do that. There could be many. I recognize when I present, when I’ve seen myself on video, there are all sorts of mannerisms that I wasn’t aware of and I tried to kind of watch those as I’m speaking, but again, in the heat of the moment, there’s no telling what might pop out. It’s interesting. Any other recommendations for introverts becoming influencers or leaders?

Kirk: I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to be who you are and the biggest impediment is for individuals to think they’ve got to become an extrovert to be successful. Or they’ve got to force their way to be an extrovert in a certain way. We’ve all got to be introverts or extroverts over the course of our professional lives. That’s a given, but it’s got to be according to parameters that work for you with your personality, and you’ve mentioned with your personality how you’ve kind of bridged that divide. I think the thing to be wary of is the thought that I need to be this kind of introvert or extrovert, or I need to do these things to be successful when being an extrovert or presenting myself as an extrovert. It’s got to be your own style that works for you. Finding that which is natural to you, because whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you can tell if someone’s behaving unnaturally. And I think that’s the key. Is this–is what I’m going to be to try to be extroverted about things versus I can’t really do it this way. Here’s what works for me. I think that’s the major thing that’s important for folks.

I think the biggest thing is you've got to be who you are and the biggest impediment is for individuals to think they've got to become an extrovert to be successful. Or they've got to force their way to be an extrovert in a certain… Click To Tweet

Ben: Kirk, this has been a great discussion. What other thoughts do you have for us today?

Kirk: I think for myself, the one area I’d like to see help with in terms of introverts and extroverts are social media, because social media for the most part as I see it is, it’s an extrovert’s medium or suite of media that is designed to project aspects of what you’re doing out to the greater population to see. And like any sort of thing that takes place in a public setting, there are certain expectations and dynamics to it that at least myself as an introvert, I don’t feel comfortable using or knowing or understanding. But I want to say that in two different sorts of concepts. The first is, as an introvert, I’d like to know more how to effectively project out to engage, but as an introvert I’d also like to see more introverts working with others to talk about. It can’t just be self projection all the time and I think that again, there’s–because you can’t see the population you’re interacting with, it’s a matter of what’s the litmus test or tests for echo that says, “This is too much, this is not enough.” How do you go from one-way broadcasting to interactive interaction through these media.

Kirk:  And I think introverts and extroverts, all people have a role to play in discussing how to do this because these are very powerful media. I think the biggest fear there within is they can be echo chambers. if you’re always projecting out without the response from others speaking back, how far will you get in a line of sort of thought before you realize I could be dead wrong. And that’s an area where all of us sort of together need to figure out how to navigate these new kinds of media. It’s exciting, but it’s an opportunity for us to interact and participate and work together to build things. And I think that’s what’s key.

Ben: Well, I appreciate your time today. This has been a very insightful and interesting interview and I look forward to having you on the program again in the future.

Kirk: Looking forward to it. Thank you for the opportunity and thank you for this podcast series. It’s a great resource.

Ben: Thank you. I appreciate that.


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Kirk St Amant headshot

Episode 007: Kirk St Amant–The Introvert in the Classroom

Category:Higher Education,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Podcast,Uncategorized

Episode 007: Kirk St Amant–The Introvert in the Classroom Show Notes

Introduction

Prof. Kirk St. Amant and Ben Woelk discuss what it’s like to be an introvert in the classroom, how we engage students, and the role of popular culture in teaching. We also discuss how we adapt to the absence of in-person feedback mechanisms in webinars and online courses.

Key concepts

  • Adapting to your classroom
  • Playing the role of an extrovert as needed
  • Using cultural differences as learning opportunities
  • Getting comfortable with delayed or no feedback

Quotable

In many ways, it kind of becomes like acting. You create the persona of who you are as the instructor and figure out how to deliver information in that persona so that students feel engaged and there’s a connection and they want to interact with the material and they feel comfortable interacting with you. And that persona is never the same. With each class you’ve got different populations that you’re working with and you adapt that persona to those populations.

There are these periods where as an introvert you have got to be on and in many ways play the role of the extrovert, but it’s the kind of extrovert the audience needs at that point in time to process and engage with the information you’re sharing with them.

These cultural differences, these age-based differences are valuable tools to use to engage students because first of all, it demystifies you as the instructor. You’re not this great all knowing sage who’s going to be up there and explain the wisdom of the universe to them.

(Doing webinars) I think that the key is getting comfortable being able to orate without that kind of feedback you’re accustomed to in many situations, and just assuming that, okay, I think I’ve done a good job.

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Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Kirk St. Amant. Kirk is a professor in the Eunice C. Williamson Endowed Chair in Technical Communication at Louisiana Tech University and he is also an adjunct professor of International Health and Medical Communication with the University of Limerick in Ireland. He researches international communication and information design for global audiences. His specific research focus is on the globalization of online education and health and medical communication for international audiences. He’s taught online and hybrid courses for universities in Belize, China, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Qatar, and Ukraine, and the United States. You can contact Kirk at Kirk.StAmant@gmail.com. Kirk and I have worked together to launch a new Society for Technical Communication Special Interest Group: Technical Communication in Health and Medicine. Kirk is our first academic on the Hope for the Introvert podcast.

Ben: I’m really excited today to get your perspective on what it’s like to work in academia as an introvert. Kirk, how long have you been in academia?

Kirk: I’m going on my 16th year now in Higher Ed and enjoying every minute of it.

Ben: Did you work in industry as well or has it been solely as a professor?

Kirk: I did prior to being in academia. I worked for awhile in books of all things. I managed a small independently-owned bookstore at first and then I worked in the printing and publishing area of book production for awhile after that. It’s actually at that point that I became interested in technical communication, just trying to navigate sort of the differences between the engineering work that goes on in the printing industry and then client expectations from the sales and publishing side. So that’s where the interest came from.

Ben:  Yeah, that is really interesting. I didn’t know that about your background. So, I am in academia, but I don’t really consider myself to be an academic because I work as a staff person in the information security office, although I do teach adjunct. Is there a typical day or week for you in your job and what would it be like?

Kirk: Great question! I think whether you’re in industry or academia–I think we’re in the same situation where a lot of it is you wake up in the morning and go into work and think I’ve got this organized plan of how things are going to work, and four minutes and two emails into it everything changes, and so a lot of it is kind of how to adapt as you move forward through the course of the day. Again, I think like many folks in industry, for many academics, there are the standard things you can expect. This is the slotting of courses I’m going to teach for today and you know, those are standard, but then around those courses and between them are all sorts of different activities that you need to focus on–everything from doing different kinds of research activities to sort of committee kinds of meetings to service kinds of meanings where you plan how the organization operates. So very much they’re the same. They’re the standard expected things that we all know were going to happen. And then, the unscripted stuff that we kind of get into it. It’s really enjoyable. So I think, I think Ben, this is a good example of how you can work across both domains is there’s that flexibility on both sides, and I think the personality for most of us who were in technical communication lends itself well to that mix of scripted expectation versus sort of on-the-fly working with things.

Ben: Okay. So you’re an introvert in academia. You’re certainly not alone. There are plenty of introverts in academia, but do you feel like your introversion affects your teaching style at all, and if so, how?

Kirk: Yeah, I think for the most part,–I mean you teach also and I think for many individuals they guest lecture or teach in classes Whether they’re in industry or in academia, you stand up in front of a classroom. I mean, the biggest thing is education is about drawing attention to yourself for the most part, particularly in face-to-face classes and so, in many instances you’re standing up in the front of the room and you want to call everyone’s attention to you for a sustained period of time, and if you’re an introvert, that is antithetical to how you try to often interact with individuals. And so the challenge for me at least, and I think for many other introverts in academia becomes, “How do you do that?” In many ways, “How do you sort of override your natural tendency to not want to be the center of attention all the time?” Or, to have long, prolonged periods of time of quiet to sort of think through things.

Kirk:  And so at least for myself–I’m guessing for other introverts in academia–in many ways it kind of becomes like acting. You create the persona of who you are as the instructor and figure out how to deliver information in that persona so that students feel engaged and there’s a connection and they want to interact with the material and they feel comfortable interacting with you. And that persona is never the same. With each class you’ve got different populations that you’re working with and you adapt that persona to those populations. And the catch is–we mentioned adjusting on the fly–it’s that kind of a thing. In the moment you adapt your communication style to how the audience reacts and responds. So I think for me that’s the greatest challenge. There are these periods where as an introvert you have got to be on and in many ways play the role of the extrovert, but it’s the kind of extrovert the audience needs at that point in time to process and engage with the information you’re sharing with them, if that makes sense. And my guess is you’ve had that experience also as an introvert who teaches, as I’m guessing are lots of other folks in the same situation.

There are these periods where as an introvert you have got to be on and in many ways play the role of the extrovert, but it's the kind of extrovert the audience needs at that point in time to process and engage with the information… Click To Tweet

In many ways it kind of becomes like acting. You create the persona of who you are as the instructor and figure out how to deliver information in that persona so that students feel engaged and there's a connection and they want to… Click To Tweet

Ben: You’ve mentioned my teaching. I know for me, I really try to stay away from lectures. I really try to do much more of a discussion-based teaching format, where I’m throwing questions out there and we’re discussing them before I’ll move on to the next subject. I don’t know whether that’s an introvert or an extrovert thing. What do you do stylistically?

Kirk: We’re back to the audience and it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes it is the lecture part of the front, but I mean, let’s be honest, that gets boring very quickly. So it’s a matter of trying to figure out, you’ve got a two hour block class, let’s say, of instructional time. How do you parse that into the say 10 to 15 minutes of lecture if you will;, the 20 to 30 minutes of guided discussion; the 10 to 15 minutes of small group interaction where you move back and forth among the groups and work with them. And again, it’s kind of like you adapt what is needed based upon the information that you’re presenting and how the audience seems to be reacting to and responding to it. And I think a lot of it–I’m willing to bet you do the same thing–is you begin to get into paces and rhythms of how to do things.

Kirk: Okay, now the best way to approach this topic is I’m going to lecture this or I’m going to do the small group discussion. But, the key for me at least to success is you don’t go in with that as a set regimen of how you’re going to approach the material. You kind of go in knowing this is the subject matter I’ve got to teach and I’ve got to be ready to adapt this in different ways over the course of my presentation. And again, I think lots of folks–introverts or extroverts–when it’s an educational environment, you do wind up in this adaptive model where you shift how you approach things depending upon what’s working with the audience. You mentioned earlier like introvert versus extrovert in the classroom. I think in many ways, this is where being introverted may be an advantage in the sense that you tend to be very keenly attuned to the audience in ways that maybe extroverts might not be–and I’m speaking completely out of turn here–but, I think it’s a matter of you’re more used to knowing the quiet students to look for, if you will, because you were one of them at one point in time. And so it’s knowing how to sort of engage them and monitor how they’re reacting as well as the more extroverted students in the class to try to get them interacting. So that’s part of the joy of it. The ability to create as you’re moving forward.

Ben: So one of the things that I adjusted as I became aware of my introversion or understood more about it, and understanding that, especially in computing security, I’ve got a ton of introverts in there. It’s really changed my philosophy around group work and group projects. And I always used to assign some. And it was always obviously a challenge because you get four or five students and you’d get the one who’s making sure everything gets done and you have somebody else who is contributing, and then you have a couple who are kind of lingering on and not doing too much. But as I studied introversion, what I started realizing was they’re–in a sense–they’re meeting together on these group projects and so much of introvert meeting behavior is not advancing ideas until you’ve had time to think through them. So I’ve really modified what I’ve done around that and I don’t really assign much of it.

Ben: Now, what I do do is make them post a blog post and I have them come in front of the class and talk about that blog post for about five minutes and insist that I get three questions answered before I’ll let them sit down. Which is entertaining sometimes, but it’s a little hard on them because this class especially, is almost (all) first year students. And they’ve never had to stand up in front of anybody and talk. And given that they’re cyber security students, they may never end up doing that in their careers either. So it’s always a little interesting because you do have some students who absolutely panic at the thought of having to stand in front of people and talk, but we try to make it conversational, engaging and give them the prop of having the blog post up there so they’re not feeling like they have to wing it, and I don’t let them do a PowerPoint or anything like that either.

Ben: But it is interesting because, and like you said, it’s adapting to what you’re seeing in the classroom and what they are responsive to. And for me in that instance it was, these are people like me out in this classroom. I never liked group work–mixed results! I mean the only thing that would be worse is if I have a class that is a mix of professionals and on campus students, and pairing them together is always a disaster because the professionals get their work done, and the on-campus students have that luxury of waiting until the last minute. But it’s really interesting what you’re talking about in terms of adapting your classroom style, even though it is the same content.

Ben: So one challenge I’ve found myself in teaching is ensuring that the cultural references that I make are known and realizing what decade people were born in is always a surprise at this point. I had mentioned in a previous podcast, that I’d worked on a slide of a ROUS, a Rodent Of Unusual Size from The Princess Bride [Kirk laughing] into a presentation, and only one student knew what that was. So stubbornly, I left the slide in. I showed it last week and this time I had three students out of 30 who recognized the ROUS. But interestingly, The Princess Bride doesn’t really appear to be part of their culture now. So it’s–and they’re lots of things like that, and that’s just one example. What have you done to make sure that your illustrations or your allusions are culturally relevant to them?

Kirk: Awesome question. As corny as it sounds, I don’t. I think those things are wonderful teaching and learning prompts that we can use to draw individuals into a conversation. And so I kind of overemphasize that when I teach, you know, walking up, I’m a child of the seventies and eighties, so you need to kind of walk in there and go, “Okay, does anybody here know what the Soviet Union is or was?” Oh boy! “Can someone look that up for me right quick?” and automatically you’re parsing out activities based upon, “Can you help me learn something because I’m so–I’m a little bit dated on this?” Someone will fire it up, and, “Okay, so you found it. Where did you find it, Wikipedia? Can someone here tell me, is Wikipedia the best source to look for this? Okay, why not? Can someone else…? Help me out here!” “What are some mechanisms we could use online to do this? What’s the Wiki thing? I don’t get this. Help me out.”

Kirk: So in many ways, using these cultural differences as prompts to do a couple of things–to make the students engage with the material, but then to get them to do things and explain things, in many cases highly technical things in ways that an audience who’s completely unfamiliar with them can understand it, is a way to begin to teach them how to do things like write technical instructions or generate technical summaries or you began to–for them it’s kind of a humorous thing. And for many of them they’ve had to do it with other family members. My big joke is, and you’ve heard me talk about this before, I’ll take out my iPhone, which I’ve had for like a year now. and ask people, “Can someone tell me how to turn this on?” and it gets them going, but then they’ll begin to talk through it. “Okay. Slow down. Can you write me up a set of instructions for this?” But it’s an opportunity to engage. And I think when you demystify, for lack of a better word, your role isn’t as an instructor that I’m not this incredible font of knowledge who knows everything. I’m really flawed and I need your help. Let’s do this together. I think that does foster engagement. It really helps in terms of–especially technologies. It keeps me as the old guy in the classroom more up to date with what’s going on by having them explain things, but I also think it helps them feel more invested and because they’ve got an investment and want to help, it’s much different than me sort of assigning an artificial task in terms of let’s write an instruction set on how to log onto Facebook.

Kirk: These cultural differences, these age-based differences are valuable tools to use to engage students because first of all, it demystifies you as the instructor. You’re not this great all knowing sage who’s going to be up there and explain the wisdom of the universe to them. It’s you’re a human being like every user they’re ever going to work with, and so it’s a matter of knowing how to engage that human being based upon their limitations and design information that that human being can use based upon their background. You’re doing an audience analysis, user testing, basic research skills all around this kind of what’s seen as a detriment but really isn’t. So these cultural differences are valuable ways of engaging students and I think that’s kind of nice. You learn from them because the students provide you with their version of things, the most current version of this particular demographic group and they learn about your group, but they feel a sincere sense of connection versus providing them with an artificial example like, “Let’s all write instructions about how to log into YouTube now.” I hope that made sense.

These cultural differences are valuable tools to use to engage students because first of all, it demystifies you as the instructor. You're not this great all knowing sage who's going to be up there and explain the wisdom of the… Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, and one thing–one thing that I’ve done–for both of my classes, I make my students blog and I have a WordPress.com blog that’s set up so I don’t have to worry about security settings on it. I had drafted a set of instructions on how they sign up for it and how they log into it. Now, WordPress has changed how you do things so many times over the years. I’ve just left the instructions in there as is and one of their first assignments really is, “I know these instructions are not what they should be. How would you improve them?” So it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s getting them immersed immediately in what is the work of a technical communicator? And I use this exercise when I do a technical writing and editing online class in the spring.

Ben: So online classes are interesting. I mean as an introvert or an extrovert, they’re going to be interesting. But what have you found especially challenging about online teaching and what have you done to address that?

Kirk: Well, excellent question. To be quite honest with you, I never realized how dependent I was on audience feedback as a teacher, and even as someone who’s been an introvert their entire life, never realizing how much you monitored the feedback of the people with whom you’re interacting–even if it’s in silence to sort of gauge how you’re about to do something. And then when you get to this online teaching experience where everything is reduced to text and realizing I don’t have the kinds of feedback sources I’ve used over the course of my life to gauge this audience, to interact with them, to understand them. And that’s an interesting situation to be in, how to do this. And so that I think was the biggest surprise for me is finding these ways of what are other ways of gleaning the kinds of feedback I’ve become so accustomed to using in face-to-face situations to adapt them to online teaching. I’m curious, maybe you’ve seen the same thing as an introvert also. This notion of, wow, I’m a lot more dependent on feedback than I realized and it’s missing here.

Ben: Yeah, and I’ve dealt with that with the students as well because they’re–and honestly, especially depending on how busy I am that semester and it’s an online class and a challenge for us is remembering we have that online class because we’re not showing up in front of it to lead it every day, but…so one of the challenges has been to make sure that I’m engaged with the class and they know that I’m engaged with the class. What I started doing last semester is I added a Slack workspace to go with the class and I didn’t do it–they’re not doing–they’re doing assignments in it, but I told them this is by far the fastest way to get a hold of me and we’ve had some informal assignments so they can post things and I have them post their introductions there and things like that. And there a couple of reasons: One, it is the fastest way to get a hold of me, but two, it allows me to do online office hours with them and this is an online class so I can do a video call with them, and the other part of it is I am introducing them to a tool they are going to use in the workplace or they will be using some other similar collaborative tools. So I love getting them immersed in doing that now.

Kirk: Nice. That’s a really clever approach. I like that. I’m stealing it from you just so you know!

Ben: Absolutely! Please do!

Ben: One other thing I want to touch base on in terms of the distance learning and the online presentations: We had talked I think briefly a couple of months ago where I think you had maybe done your first webinar-type presentation, and Sara Feldman and I had quite the discussion about how that was speaking into the void because you get no feedback whatsoever. What have you found with that and if you found anything that’s well–is that your experience with it and have you found anything that’s helpful?

Kirk: That’s a great, great question and observation. Yes. In fact, ironically before we spoke today, I just did a webinar for STC, and I’ve done a number of them now, and there still is that phenomenon of speaking into the void. I think it’s just something that you begin to adapt yourself to and learn to work with, and you begin to apply that to online teaching as well. So now, for example, when I do teach online, I feel more comfortable creating audio recordings to go with classes, because when you’re sitting at your computer or writing and recording at the same time, in many ways, it mirrors that webinar experience. So it–it kind of cross pollinates how it works. I’m still trying to figure out how to adapt to that sort of environment, and it’s–for all of us–it’s a learning process.

Kirk: I think I’m getting more comfortable speaking out loud or talking to myself out loud. I don’t know if it’s wise to say that in a public forum [Ben laughing], but, you know, I’m not comfortable having conversations with myself. But, I think that’s the key is getting comfortable being able to orate without that kind of feedback you’re accustomed to in many situations, and just assuming that, okay, I think I’ve done a good job. I’m now going to go onto the next point. One thing I’ve learned–and maybe you and others have experienced it also–is there’s a tendency when you’re in instruction mode to stop every so often and asked for confirmation of comprehension. “Did that make sense? Okay. Before I go on, are there any questions?” and it’s learning in that Webinar format where you would naturally do that and maybe giving a little bit more space or pause to allow individuals to maybe process that information before moving on. I’m still kind of learning how to come to terms with the notion of the time-delayed question, where you orate for the Webinar, then you get the text questions typed into a chat box after and respond to those. So it’s a learning process.

On webinars--I think that's the key is getting comfortable being able to orate without that kind of feedback you're accustomed to in many situations, and just assuming that, okay, I think I've done a good job. Click To Tweet

Ben: It definitely changes the pacing a bit. I think it’s probably good because I think the other problem that we tend to run into if we’re not getting cues back is that we probably tend to go a little bit too fast, so I think having that break worked in where people can raise questions is really good. The other thing that Sarah and I found that was helpful and it’s not always an opportunity, but when you’re co-presenting, we’ve been on video with each other at the same time, whether we’ve done it through a different type of channel (such) as Slack or it’s actually part of the Zoom recording or something else. That’s helped immensely because we can see each other and we can get cues off of each other and it takes away that–“Hey, I’m talking to a friend piece of it”–so I know that I’m not talking out into the void. So that’s really the only thing I’ve found so far besides the “allowing time,” but I’ll get to the end of a presentation and I will not have the slightest idea how it’s been received. I haven’t been able to alter anything. I’m kind of, well, what did you all think? Are you awake? sort of thing sometimes, you know, but it is interesting.

Kirk: Well one of the cool experiences you bring up that I’ve had is, once in the past I do a lot of guest lecturing and other classes of colleagues by Skype and that’s an interactive medium. You see the class, you interact. But one time we did it with a colleague, and they could not communicate with me. They could hear me and they could see me but I could not see or hear them. And so the teacher on the other side of the exchange was typing into the comment box what I should be seeing. Like “Ooh–lots of nodding–people understanding; confused looks–maybe clarify”, and that to be honest with you as the best talking into the void experience I’ve ever had, because you got that kind of instantaneous feedback from another educator who knew what to look for and what to tell you to prompt you to behave. And it’s like, man, if every webinar could be orchestrated in that way, that would be so awesome.

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s great. I really like that idea too.

Ben: Thanks Kurt for an insightful interview.

Extras

The iPhone lecture

The iPhone lecture


  • 0
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.”

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.… Click To Tweet

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]

I think it's easy to look at someone that you see as a leader and you think they have always been a leader. @clearwriter Click To Tweet

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.

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… Click To Tweet

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.

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....@clearwriter Click To Tweet

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.

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. @clearwriter Click To Tweet

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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