Episode 031: Eeshita Grover–Getting Out of Your Bubble

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Eeshita Grover headshot

Episode 031: Eeshita Grover–Getting Out of Your Bubble

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Podcast,STC,techcomm

Episode 031 Show Notes: Eeshita Grover

Introduction

Eeshita Grover and Ben Woelk discuss the need to get out of your bubble to achieve your aspirations, the best placement of techcomm teams, and working in an open office setting.

Eeshita Grover headshot

Key concepts

  • Open workspace environments can be challenging for introverts
  • Technical writers and engineers work similarly, often preferring to focus on their work rather than interacting with others.
  • People in very public spaces have a surprising perception that their calls and other interactions are still private.
  • Working with marketing provides technical writers the opportunity to better understand how customers use products.
  • Mindset shift takes time.
  • Three keys to helping an introvert become more comfortable networking: 1. Knowing your subject matter really well. 2. Having people express confidence in you 3. it takes time.

Quotable

Achievement doesn’t happen overnight. At the end of the day, you have to want it. It became very clear to me quite early on that I’d have to get past my own bubble if you will. Get out of it and learn to be more forthcoming and talkative.

Three keys to helping an introvert become more comfortable networking: 1. Knowing your subject matter really well. 2. Having people express confidence in you 3. Realize it takes time.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Eeshita Grover. Eeshita is a director of marketing at Cisco and contributed to the STC Intercom May/June, 2018 article, “The Introvert in the Workplace: Becoming an Influencer and Leader.” You can contact Eeshita at eeshita@icloud.Com or on Linkedin, Eeshita Grover. I encourage our listeners to visit Hope for the Introvert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversation.

Ben: Hi. Welcome to the Hope for the Introvert podcast. I’m looking forward to our conversation. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Cisco and what your workplace is like?

Eeshita: Sure. I’ve been at Cisco for 14 years and always been in the technical communications function. The key aspect of my job has been producing user-facing content for the data center products at Cisco. And it’s been a really fun ride. Lots of learning over the past 14 years. I can say with 100% confidence that there’s never been a dull moment. I get an opportunity to interface with a lot of cross-functional teams, all the way from engineering to marketing and sales and even customer support. That kind of summarizes my job role and my presence in the landscape, that I’m in good company

Ben: OK. So what’s the actual workplace like? I have no idea if it’s an open office, whether you have your own office. What it’s like working at Cisco?

Eeshita: So we do have an open space or open environment as they call it. There are no cubes. There are no offices. Even our vice presidents and senior vice presidents sit in the open workspace environment, which is challenging. I’ve been in this environment for almost two years and it still feels difficult because you’re out in the open all the time and you really don’t have much space to sort of be yourself or be in your zone as I call it. And in my current setup, I sit with my team of writers and on the other side of the floor we have a large group of engineers. And surprisingly, I noticed that there’s a lot of similarity in the ways engineers and technical writers work. There is that sense of “I want to just focus on what I’m doing,” and often people are focused on their monitors and watching what they’re doing. Now interestingly, on the opposite side of the floor, there is a marketing team and we are in the middle of engineering and marketing. That’s kind of how we are situated. And There’s quite a bit of chatter. There’s quite a bit of talk. A lot of phone conversations with customers, potential sales channels, etc. That’s how we are physically situated here in my current setup.

Ben: So are there issues with noise level and things like that?

Eeshita: Yes, it takes a lot of adjustment. Mostly everyone has their headphones on and they’re trying to just focus on on what they’re doing. There is that, even though some people are particular enough that when they have a private conversation, they will take it out. They go into a private room, but many times people are not conscious of it and they start their conversation with their spouse or their child while everyone else can listen. And that certainly causes a certain amount of hindrance for the rest of us.

Ben: Yeah, it’s interesting. I don’t remember the name of the article, but I’d read an article about a study where there was a class and part of what they were doing was kind of seeing what the perceptions were of private space and public space and how surprised the people doing–the students doing the research work–about how people don’t seem–almost assume privacy. They’re in conversations. And if you go sit in an airport or a large room, you can hear people talking about pretty much anything, sharing credit card numbers, sharing personal information. It’s really surprising in a lot of ways. But I don’t know. It’s very strange. I don’t know whether the fact that we have headphones on and knowing that we’re the only person that can hear the other person, whether I–I’m not sure where the thinking is on that.

Eeshita: It’s actually in line with the question you asked me about how we are situated. My team of technical writers actually reports into marketing in the business unit that I work for at Cisco. And traditionally or more often than not, we’ve seen technical writing teams reporting into engineering or engineering operations. But this setup is kind of unique, and I personally think from a functional perspective, it serves us far better because the content we produce is–we are in closer proximity with the people who actually read our content and use it. But from a personality perspective, I think writers on the team still have a bit of a hard time trying to figure out how to even how to level set or how to strike a conversation or even try to understand marketing perspectives. It’s not a question of alignment. It’s more a question of how you approach your jobs.

Ben: So what do you see as the main difference there?

Eeshita: Traditionally technical writers have been very inward focused. The goal being, okay, here’s your piece. You go write it and once you’ve written it, one of your SMEs is going to review it. And that’s the last time you update the content and then you really don’t get an opportunity to talk to someone who’s actually using the content. But when we are–now that I am part of a marketing organization, we get consistency. You get constant feedback from our customers who are reading our content and voicing their opinion and voicing their concerns about what is it that they need from us. But this is again, something that writers are just not familiar with it. It catches them off guard. There is that general tendency of how come this is happening. There’s that question mark that, oh my gosh, why did this come to me now? And I have realized that it’s not a result of the fact that they don’t want to improve. I think it’s just the fact that it’s a different environment. It’s new. It’s a different way of doing things and that is where the mindset shift comes in and mindset shift takes time. It does not happen overnight. Right?

Ben: Now, was this the same alignment before you went to the open floor plan type workspace?

Eeshita: Yes it was. This alignment happened about four years ago.

Ben: Okay. I’m trying to think because I kind of wear both hats because I always have a communication role. I’m translating my technical content to a non-technical audience or at least one that’s not so versed in the jargon. So for me, I’m used to that but I haven’t done software documentation or hardware documentation type work in a really, really long time. Almost everything has been what is this going to mean for the end user? So that part makes a lot of sense to me, but it’s such a different skillset. I think, or it can be a different skillset between being used to working with engineers as subject matter experts compared to working with marketing people. And part of what you’re referencing is the marketing people from what you’re saying seemed to be more outgoing than either the engineers or the technical communication group.

Eeshita: Definitely. And the sheer fact that marketing brings a more customer-oriented perspective is also new. It’s different. It’s a different way of thinking for technical writers who are more comfortable in the traditional way of doing things. When you think about it, being part of marketing suddenly puts technical writing in the forefront of the food chain. It puts in the front of the food chain versus at the very bottom. And suddenly you are the first customer-facing team who’s looking at the product in terms of how it’s designed and also how it’s going to be used. And this is truly where you are going to be expected to play the role of the user’s advocate and all those wonderful phrases that describe technical writing. Many a times I catch my writers and I will point out that we don’t need to explain to the user how a feature has been designed or how it’s been coded, what they really need to know is how to use it.

Eeshita: And then there’s that sudden realization that, “Oh, I was speaking to an engineer and the engineer just told me how they coded the feature, not really how it’s going to be used.” So that gives you another perspective and that’s where marketing comes in and says “Hey, wait a minute. You need to think about it from a user’s perspective.” So the whole concept of sometimes–and this is another point I’ve made with my writers, is that I have come to a realization that we’ve been doing our jobs wrong. Maybe, or maybe we were missing the mark because we have relied on engineers to give us feedback for our content. But the product is not really going to be used by an engineer or really the user doesn’t really care about how the product was designed. What they need to know is how do I use the product?

Ben: Right. So what might have been very handy if it was a software thing such as a system administrators guide, where they may need to know a lot more detail. Because the audiences, again, which it’s supposed to be anyway, but the audience is really the key determinant in terms of what kind of content you’re going to share and how you’re going to share it. Yeah, I can well imagine the engineers going very much in depth about something they’re very passionate about. But for the person who’s going to use the product, like you said, it may just be totally irrelevant. It may not be something they’ll ever do.

Eeshita: Precisely. Yep.

Ben:  Yeah, there was a really–and I’m sure you’re familiar with this book, but there was a–I think it was Alan Cooper’s book on the inmates being in charge of the asylum, and it talked about engineering driving features and products, and part of his discussion was how you kept getting all, “Well, let’s add that. We can do that. Let’s add this.” So I can have it do that without necessarily looking at the usability side of it or whether those features were something that anyone would even want to use.

Eeshita: Yep. That’s very true.

Ben: So it’s an interesting read. It’s been several years since I looked at it, but some of these things just don’t change. So, yeah. It sounds like an interesting structure that you’re in there.

Eeshita: Yes, I really do think that if you are wired to understand your users’ way of doing things and you’re interested in how they’re going to actually use the product, I couldn’t think of a better place to be in as opposed to where I am at right now. Interestingly, recently I attended a couple of sessions related to customer journey mapping of our product and it was quite an eye-opening experience because high tech companies create these products, and they start to ship them and they start to sell them. Very rarely, even today, not much importance is given to usability or let’s vet the product enough before it’s made generally available. That’s one aspect of the story.

Eeshita: The other aspect of this story is the product is really powerful. It comes with a great brand on it. It comes with a great brand name and there’s credibility associated with the product. We definitely need to invest in this. And that’s where the big decision makers come in and put a stake in the ground. And the decision is made for people who have to ramp up from ground zero to learn how to use the product. And that is where the content that my team creates comes in is, is front and center, and that’s where the value add comes in.

Ben: Right, and it’s a very competitive marketplace so you constantly have that. In some ways you have to get it to market or you may miss the opportunity completely. I recently watched a show. It’s on Netflix. It was an A&E program to start with called Halt and Catch Fire. And it had to do with the beginnings of the personal computing industry and it goes forward a decade or so after that. But the whole race to get something to market first and if someone beat you there first, whether it be a portable computer at the time when they were such rare things, or Yahoo getting their search engine embedded into Mozilla initially, it’s kind of like, “Well they got the market share because they got there first.” So I understand the tension. But I guess part of the brand name thing is that people will expect the company to stand behind it and work through whatever the issues are and make the improvements. Yeah, definitely an interesting space in which to work.

Ben: So we connected initially becausey ou were at Lavacon, and you had done a presentation about Introverts and Leadership and we connected after that. And we’ve chatted quite a bit really over the years. And so I’d like to get an idea of–now, so you’re a marketing director, you’re situated between engineering and marketing. How does that work for you? As an introvert, how do you approach your work? What do you find to be strengths? What do you find to be challenges?

Eeshita: What I default to in terms of strengths is always my knowledge around content, and obviously to some degree in my product level knowledge that I have gained over the years. My challenge still remains terms of going out there being sort of the “go getter” or someone who’s going to be absolutely comfortable starting a conversation with a complete stranger. Those are some of the things that still pose to be a bit of a challenge for me. I am thrown into those situations and I have to tell myself that I just have to do it. That’s the only way. Over the years I’ve been able to overcome my inhibitions or shyness if you will, by just constantly telling myself over and over again that I know my subject, I know this best and my job here is to really rely on my own knowledge, my own experience and make sure that the points I make, how I contribute to a discussion is really about me talking through my own expertise.

Eeshita: Not feeling that. Not thinking about the fact that I know less than XYZ or this person knows more than me. That’s always going to be the case. Someone out there is going to obviously know more than you, but there have been–it’s been a series of several incidents where a lot of self assurance has come into play. There have been instances where I have often relied on my own friends’ and my own colleagues’ confidence in me that, “Hey, you know you got this. You know how to do this.” And that has helped immensely. So it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. But at the end of the day, you have to want it. You have to want it. And I did. I always knew that I wanted to reach a certain point in my career. I wanted–I have had aspirations, I still have aspirations. And it became very clear to me quite early on that I’d have to get past my own bubble if you will. Get out of it and learn to be more forthcoming and talkative–engaging. Those are the things that are–that don’t come inherently to me.

Achievement doesn't happen overnight. At the end of the day, you have to want it. It became very clear to me quite early on that I'd have to get past my own bubble if you will. Get out of it and learn to be more forthcoming and… Click To Tweet

Ben: So I’m hearing three different things really that have helped you along this. One of these is knowing your subject matter really really well so that you are comfortable and you can rely on that expertise. The other thing I heard out of that was having people express confidence in you. “You’ve got that,” I think is the way you phrased it. I think that part is really really important. And the third thing you mentioned really was it takes time. For me, I’ll look back at it as a series of small successes mainly, but of course there are failures at times too. But you know, definitely a series of things I can look back on that are in some ways markers. I had a friend who referred to them as tokens in a sense that you can look back as achievements that help you realize that, yes, you actually should be in this space. So I think it’s really interesting.

Three keys to helping an introvert become more comfortable networking: 1. Knowing your subject matter really well. 2. Having people express confidence in you 3. Realize it takes time. Click To Tweet

Eeshita: Yup. What surprises me is that I always knew that there wasn’t–I never had stage fright. You put me up in front of people and I have to present. That was never an issue with me. But at the same time, if I was to go to a get together where I probably knew five out of 10 people, even that would be a challenge for me. So it was getting to those self realizations and getting to understand yourself. Like, okay, I’m perfectly comfortable if I’m put in front of a room full of strangers and I have no issue with that. But on the contrary, even I have to be in a get together, where I probably know 50% of the people, there’s that whole “I don’t know if I want to go. Oh, I’m too busy.” You know all of those excuses. [Ben laughing]

Ben: Sounds like me quite a bit as well. Typically I don’t want to go, but that doesn’t mean there’s always an option around it.

Eeshita: Exactly. And that’s kind of where I picked up. I’m okay, as long as I’m talking about things that I know of and I have fairly decent knowledge and experience. I can make conversation. I can talk about those things. And so you get to that point where like “Let’s play it by ear and see how it goes. It might not be that bad,” and slowly but surely you start getting comfortable in those settings as well. And like I said, it takes time. And if I was to tell you how many years it took me, I would say it took me about seven-eight years to sort of be who I am today from what I used to be.

Ben: Well. Awesome.

 

 

Extras

Why Introverts Make Successful Leaders, Lavacon 2017


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Andrea Childress headshot

Episode 030: Andrea Childress–Women in IT and Information Security Leadership

Category:EDUCAUSE,Higher Education,Information Security,introversion,Introverted Leadership,Leadchange,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 030 Show Notes: Andrea Childress

Introduction

Andrea Childress and Ben Woelk discuss women in IT and Information Security leadership in Higher Education, her Women in Security panel presentation at the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference, and strategies for overcoming the leadership gender gap. Note: Andrea is now UNK Chief Information Officer and University of Nebraska Assistant Vice President for Information Technology Services .

Andrea Childress headshot

Key concepts

  • The percentage of women in IT is around 14%; even lower in leadership roles
  • Mentoring is a key success factor
  • Men and women may have unconscious biases around the appropriate roles of women in the workplace
  • Diverse teams achieve superior results
  • There are parallels between the importance of women and introverts in understanding and identifying their strengths
  • Sharing leadership stories and being role models are key to helping address gender diversity
  • Leaders (male and female) can advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion

Quotable

In design thinking, outcomes are going to be very much influenced by the people who are doing the thinking around the design and the priorities are going to reflect the people who are in the room. @benwoelk

When hiring someone, it’s natural for you to want to relate to someone who looks like you, but you have to realize that you really need someone with whatever skills for gaps that you might have.@achildressa

If you have a room full of white men coming up with an application–building an application, it’s going to be very different than if you have a room with ethnic diversity and gender diversity. It will look different. It will be different and it will actually be better. @achildressa

I think people–every single one of us–has to be intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making sure people feel welcome regardless of where you are or what team they’re on, and that’s–to me that’s being a nice person.@achildressa

Women role models in IT and information security leadership can help diversity by increasing awareness of career opportunities available.

Getting diverse candidates in the door in IT and Cybersecurity isn’t enough. They must be made to feel welcome.

But one of the ways to change that narrative is to say, “Girls are technical, too. Girls can be technical, too. And there’s a lot of us out there that that have been or can be.” And so it’s just realizing that it is a stereotype and helping people understand that diversity means bringing in differences–people that are different than you–so that you can come up with a better solution.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Andrea Childress. Andrea is the Executive Director of Cybersecurity, Governance, Risk, and Compliance for the University of Nebraska. The GRC team provides resources and thought leadership around cybersecurity program management policy, risk assessment, compliance awareness, incident response, privacy and legal requirements. Andrea has a background in application development before moving into management and cybersecurity-focused roles. She has presented at the University of Nebraska Women Advance IT Leadership conference and the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. Andrea has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. You can contact Andrea at achildress@nebraska.edu. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversations.

Ben: Welcome back. Andrea. I’m looking forward to our conversation today. One of the reasons I asked you to be on the podcast was that I attended a panel that you were part of at the 2019 EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference on women in leadership. And I know for our listeners who are part of more technical organizations, information technology and information security, it’s certainly not any 50/50 mix of men and women in those workplaces. So I thought it would be informative for all of us to talk about the issues. There’s a reason that you all had that panel at the conference. Why did you have the panel and what specific issues are you trying to address? What is the state of women in information technology, leadership or information security leadership?

Andrea: Yes. Ben, thanks for having me talk about this. So first of all, why did we do that panel? Well, I have to give credit to my coworker Cheryl O’Dell. It was her idea and we wanted to do it at the University of Nebraska. Every fall has a conference called Women Advance IT. And so it’s a pet project of our CIO that diversity, equity and inclusion are important to him. And so this is something that he did in order to change how the state of the world is in terms of IT, at least at the university. So that conference has been going on for four years as of last fall. And my coworker wanted to do this panel. I agreed to do it with her and I recruited another person and then she recruited another person. So we had this four person panel and the four of us would get on Zoom and talk about, “Okay, what questions do we want to ask ourselves?”

Andrea: What do we want to share, what’s going to make this interesting? So we came up with each person just told their story of how they became–basically their leadership journey and how they got to work in security. And then we talked about if or how being a woman had affected their career, right? If there had been any problems over the years or if there were any issues. People shared their stories about things that they had encountered coming up in the technology world as a woman. And then we would just open it up to the audience, and we got a lot of good questions. And I think the thing that stuck out to me was that women were–who would come up to us after the panel and talk about, “Oh my gosh! I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one that these kinds of things happened to,” or, “Boy! Security sounds really fun.”

Andrea:  “I want to know more. I thought you had to be super technical to work in security and you guys are showing me that there’s room for all kinds of people and all kinds of jobs in that area, and it’s super exciting and obviously there’s a lot of opportunity in security because there’s way more problems than there are people to solve them in security today.” To answer your question about what is the state. I think it’s like 14% of people in security are women and leadership is even a smaller number. It’s probably more like 5%. I should look that up–I don’t have it on the tip of my tongue. But it’s pretty sad and I have verified that over the years. When I go to a bigger group meeting, I look around the room and I count, and it’s usually one woman for every eight men, which I don’t know if that percentage works out, but it’s like that everywhere you go.

Andrea:  It was my coworker’s idea and so we did the panel and it was pretty successful and we felt really great to be able to speak and to hear positive feedback about it. And so then we decided to repeat it just last month, or I guess I was in May at the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. And the same thing, we had a lot of great feedback. People thanked us for sharing that personal information because they could identify and they could relate, obviously. And we were also pretty constructive, “Here’s ways that we could try to change this.” And the biggest one is awareness, because a lot of it is so ingrained in people that–men and women–that they don’t even realize it. Then when you point out the things that are issues, “Oh, okay. I’m going to try to make sure I don’t do that anymore.” And it’s that unconscious bias term that you’ve probably heard about before. So that’s how I got around to working in this area and the current state.

Ben:  It’s interesting because both of us have gone to that same conference for a number of years. The conference has grown larger. I’m not sure the percentages have changed at all in that, I mean we were up over 800 people, I think this last year.

Andrea: Yeah, I think we were over 900.

Ben: I don’t know that there were a hundred women there or 120. A good number of them are clustered around awareness and training, which is what I do, so I tend to meet more of them probably. But there was also many people that I talked to. They didn’t feel like they belonged. They felt like they were around all of these security geeks who are all talking in this very jargon-laced language, not even realizing it at this point. I do think it’s a mainly unconscious or subconscious bias at this point, but you hear about it with programmers and things like that. Just that the workplaces themselves are just not friendly essentially, or that they’re even inappropriate with some of the language or some of the conversation that goes on.

Ben: That’s some of the challenges. What strategies? You mentioned awareness as part of the strategy on how to address this issue. Could you expand on that a little bit more and what do you think would make the biggest difference? And this is not an easy problem or an easy solution to confront or even figure out what to do with. Because in the 2018 conference, there was a breakout session around this [subject] watching a coding movie (CodeGirl). I don’t remember the name of it, but I will post that on the podcast once I figured out what it really is. But again, you look at your percentage of attendees and there’s some men at the thing. It’s almost–it’s primarily women and with the Women in Computing Leadership panel that you were a part of, for the men who attended, to me it was all of the usual suspects. It was the people I would expect to be there because they’ve shown interest before and they understand the issue. But I don’t know how many new people step into it, or, “I’m not going to go to that. That’s a soft topic. I’m going to go to the technical topics because obviously everything’s going to be solved by technology,” which obviously is not the case. How do you see raising awareness and any specific strategies around that?

Andrea: Well, you’re right, Ben. It is difficult. It’s not an easy thing to change. But when I said before how one of our people in the audience came up and said, “Geez, I thought all the jobs were technical.” And you said yourself, a lot of the people in security and awareness and training are females because there’s that stereotype about females being teachers and boys being the techie dudes in black sweat shirts and chugging Mountain Dew, right? That’s the stereotype. But one of the ways to change that narrative is to say, “Girls are technical, too. Girls can be technical, too. And there’s a lot of us out there that that have been or can be.” And so it’s just realizing that it is a stereotype and helping people understand that diversity means bringing in differences–people that are different than you–so that you can come up with a better solution.

Change the narrative! Girls are technical, too. Girls can be technical, too. And there's a lot of us out there that that have been or can be. Girls not being technical is a stereotype and helping people understand that diversity… Click To Tweet

Andrea: If you have a room full of white men coming up with an application–building an application, it’s going to be very different than if you have a room with ethnic diversity and gender diversity. It will look different. It will be different and it will actually be better. And that’s been proven in studies. Right? I’m not, making that up. But I think a lot of it is that awareness. And so you have to–people have to learn that you’re in charge of hiring someone–it’s natural for you to want to relate to someone who looks like you, but you have to realize that you really need someone with whatever skills for gaps that you might have.

When hiring someone, it's natural for you to want to relate to someone who looks like you, but you have to realize that you really need someone with whatever skills for gaps that you might have. @achildressa Click To Tweet

If you have a room full of white men building an application, it's going to be very different than if you have a room with ethnic diversity and gender diversity. It will look different. It will be different and it will actually be… Click To Tweet

Ben: Right. Another place that some people are finally starting to see these issues is design thinking. I know because there have been articles around it in a couple of different areas. One is around design thinking where your outcomes are going to be very much influenced by the people who are doing the thinking around the design and the priorities are going to reflect the people who are in the room. And again, if it’s all, as you mentioned, if it’s a large group of white males who are doing the design thinking and they’re all a certain Western culture, “Well surprise, surprise.” Their outcome is going to be impacted by that as well.

In design thinking outcomes are going to be very much influenced by the people who are doing the thinking around the design and the priorities are going to reflect the people who are in the room. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: The other place I’m starting to see the literature around this has to do with artificial intelligence and building programming around that, and all of the AI stuff–which I’m not expert in. But again, you have many white programmers, white male programmers who are working on that. And then it’s, “Well, what is the AI going to reflect?” It’s going to reflect their subconscious or conscious biases. So it’s a problem. It’s not an easily solvable problem. One of the things I’ve seen. I worked at the Rochester Institute of Technology and I typically adjunct teach an Intro to Computing Security class and we have a large program. There are around 250 students who take these intro classes every year. It’s rare that I would ever have more than three female students out of 30 in the class, and not unusual if I have none whatsoever. And that makes me wonder where the problem really needs to be addressed.

Ben: I’m thinking it needs to be addressed back at the high school level or maybe with career counselors or guidance counselors then, so they even understand that there are these opportunities–that there are these career paths and they are not sex-determined career paths. But I’m just trying to think in terms of what do we do at RIT? If we have co-op opportunities in our office, we try to make sure that we have female candidates, but we don’t have many out of the Computing Security department at all. I’m much more successful, again on the communication side, in terms of being able to find a good solid female co-op student who is strong at communication, which is another one of those stereotypes. But I also recognize how poorly most of my male IT students communicate. [Andrea laughing] So in that one, I’m trying to get the best person in that I possibly can. But it does make me wonder where this really needs to be addressed, and whether it’s entrance requirements or whether it’s even awareness that there’s that field or that field is open. I’m not sure. I think it needs to start earlier. I don’t know how to do that, but I think it needs to start earlier, and probably thinking and brainstorming, I can think of ways to do it where you would go into a classroom as an IT manager or security manager and then you’re a role model. So part of it I think is really celebrating the role models and making sure that people are aware of them.

Women role models in IT and information security leadership can help diversity by increasing awareness of career opportunities available. Click To Tweet

Andrea: Yeah, that’s funny, because I’m speaking in a couple of weeks at–I’m just looking at–it’s called the Cyber Gen conference in Omaha and it’s for–I think–middle school-aged girls. And so I’m going to be sharing my leadership journey there as well. And I’m pretty excited about that. I haven’t spoken to that demographic before, so that’ll, that should be fun. I hope. [Laughing] Or maybe even more difficult, I don’t know. But to go back to your question, You’re right. I’ve heard and read a lot that the pipeline is the problem, for females as they grow up and what they are exposed to.

Getting diverse candidates in the door in IT and Cybersecurity isn't enough. They must be made to feel welcome. Click To Tweet

Ben: Well, to be fair, it’s broader than the pipeline because it’s also going to be the the professors and instructors and what biases they have and whether women feel welcome in those classrooms or not too.

Andrea: That’s true. And yeah, that is what I was going to say, is that it’s not just how early you get to people. It has to be done at all levels, right? It has to be done all throughout your grades, your schooling, and your career. I think I shared at the panel in May, that I had heard the Microsoft CEO speak about a month ago. He was here in Nebraska at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s 150th celebration. And he shared his story, or he shared a thought about how every year at Microsoft, the class that they hire, the group of people that they hire is more and more diverse every year, but getting them in the door is not enough. You have to then make them feel welcome, and you already said it that way, Ben.

Andrea: And that’s exactly right. So if you think about a security team planning an outing where they’re going to go see the new Star Wars movie, and I’m not really interested in that, so I’m not going to go. I’m not gonna go just to be with my team if it’s not something I really want to do. I wonder what my team would say if I wanted them to go see, Bridget Jones Diary with me or something like that. How many men would come. It’s just things like that. And I just think it’s like the last episode where we talked about being intentional about networking. I think people–every single one of us–has to be intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making sure people feel welcome regardless of where you are or what team they’re on, and that’s–to me that’s being a nice person.

We have to be intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and making sure people feel welcome regardless of where you are or what team they're on. That's being a nice person. @achildressa Click To Tweet

Ben: Well, something else you referenced the last time we chatted was mentoring, the importance of mentoring. And I think that’s a big piece of this too. And I think men being willing to mentor women and without having harassment problems mixed in with everything else, I think is a big part of it too. I think there may be mentoring is not the right way to work on it, maybe it’s advocates who are supportive of increasing women’s role in IT. Leadership and mentoring I think is a piece of that. But I think the advocate piece is important as well.

Andrea: Yup. I think you’re absolutely right. And you know, one of the things I’ve learned in doing this panel was just people hearing us stand up there and talk just gave them, “Oh my gosh. I feel so much more comfortable about talking about this myself.” And myself as a women–and probably also being an introvert–one of the things that I’ve struggled with is just having confidence, self confidence, being assertive and speaking up in meetings and those kinds of things. And I’ve had to do the same thing in terms of networking where I just make myself do it, practice and practice and practice. And eventually when I fail I realize that I can recover from that. And it’s not a big deal. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. Right? You’ve heard that before. So, confidence is a super important tool in life. You have to take the risk to get a reward. And if you’re not taking risks, you’re kind of just warming the bench in life. And you’ll have to forgive a sports analogy where we’re talking about women. [Laughing]

Ben: You’re at the University of Nebraska, you’re going to have sports analogies. I went to the University of Florida. There will be sports analogies.

Ben: So any resources that you would recommend maybe they’re books, maybe there are other types of resources that you would recommend for women who want to be or who already are leaders in different information technology or different technical types of fields?

Andrea: Yeah. well, I already mentioned the Women Advance IT conference here at the University of Nebraska this year. So that’s a really great conference now. And there are other ones at other Higher Ed institutions, if that’s your industry that you’re in. And I’m sure there are in all of the industries now. I mean, it’s becoming more and more popular, which is fantastic. In terms of books, everyone’s heard of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and that was probably the first book that I read at some point where I said, “Yeah. Yeah. You know, I identify with this.” And so I of course turned around and bought the book for my two female nieces, and I’m pretty sure they haven’t read it, but they might need it someday. And then a couple of years ago, I learned about a book called the Confidence Code, and I read that book and that for me–was something that just, “Oh, this is normal. The way I feel is normal.” And it’s actually probably more neurological or it’s not just the fact that I’m shy or the fact that I’m insecure. Women are less likely to be assertive than men. And that’s just a fact. So it just helped me realize, “Oh, okay. It’s just a thing, right? It’s just something that I just need to be aware of and I can work on it.” There’s lots of ways to work on that. And there’s lots of podcasts–I’m trying to–I can’t think of one top of my head, but I know that there are some out there. I’ll have come back to those. [laughing] We’ll put them in the show notes.


Ben: But it’s interesting. I think the sharing-the-story part is really important and mainly because–or one of the primary reasons is because–people don’t understand they’re normal. And that’s what I found once I started speaking on introverted leadership as well. I was stunned by the reaction, and how many people embraced it and what a difference it made for them for someone to stand up–even as a white male–someone to stand up as an introvert and a leader and talk about my journey. And that it’s, it’s just incredibly transformative. It’s like the first time you talk to someone who’s read Susan Cain’s Quiet book or something like that. And how different they feel after understanding that things they have thought to be a handicap or something that they believe has held them back, and they understand that, “No, that’s a normal thing.” And also there are strengths and even understanding what those strengths are, I’ve found has made a big difference.

Andrea: Yeah, that’s a great, that’s sort of a great analogy–or it’s not an analogy–but a good parallel in terms of being an introvert or a woman in technology. So, do you think that introvert/extrovert is about 50/50, is that the ratio?

Ben: I think it depends on what you read. And I’m really, I don’t know, it’s not a low number. It’s, you know, 45%, 50%. I don’t know how many people self identify either way. And I think there’s a lot of confusion because there are many people who will equate how shy someone is or if they’re afraid of public speaking and assume that that’s an introverted trait. But that can be either, especially the public speaking part of it. I have plenty of extroverted friends who are terrified of the idea of standing in front of people and talking.

Ben: I do think that what we are seeing is that most leadership is extroverted or are extroverts. And I think a lot of that is coming out of the business schools and the role models that we’re given as leaders and Western culture in general. I don’t believe this transfers across to non-Western cultures in the same way at all. In the few conversations I’ve had with people and what study I’ve done, there’s just very different perspectives on how you get things done and the U.S. and America is just not, we’re not very good at–I think we’re pretty parochial in terms of assuming that, “Well this is the way you do things. Of course it’s the way you do things. It’s the way we do things here.” And I think the lack of travel for people sometimes, and even enmeshed, especially not being enmeshed with other cultures, I think you get different–I think you would get a much broader attitude towards who a leader is, what a leader is, what makes sense in the workplace when you get that exposure.

Andrea: Yeah. That’s a really good insight. Well, I’m not surprised that you’ve had people thank you for doing this podcast because I do think it is valuable and I love to hear the stories myself and everyone’s perspectives. And yeah, so I was asking if it’s 50/50 for sure. I was thinking it probably, I think that what I’ve read is that it is around that ratio, but in the technology industry there’s a lot more introversion than extroversion I think. Yeah. And so it’s a–I don’t know that I’d say it’s a problem, but it’s prevalent in technology, right? We do need to be intentional about doing that and making sure that we’re helping ourselves.

Ben: Yeah. Well I do think it’s a very good thing in terms of a target audience. But yeah, there’s a lot of work that can be done there. And a lot of, enlightenment is one word, which I don’t really like, but a lot of self knowledge and then probably actualization once you realize that, “Oh .yeah. I’m an introvert and I do have strengths and if I want to be a leader, I can be a leader and I can be an effective leader.

Ben: So this has been a great conversation. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. It’s been fun. So throwing a different question at you to wrap up here, which I’ve started doing to my guests. What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?

Andrea: Oh, Geez. Yeah. Yeah. Like thanks for that sideball–curve ball. Well, as an introvert, one of the crazy things about me is a few years ago, and I don’t do this anymore, but I used to be a Zumba teacher. I went through my first Zumba class in 2012 or something, and I loved it and I’ve always loved to dance. And so I went to my very first class, I said, “Oh my gosh!” I wanted to be the one in the front of that room, picking up the music and showing how to do the moves or whatever. And so I went to the training class and I practiced and I became a teacher, and I got a part-time job where I was teaching it at our YMCA. And when you sit down and you think about that, when you’re a Zumba teacher, you have to exaggerate your movements to get the excitement from your students so that you’re, you’re supposed to be making them have so much fun that they forget they’re exercising, right? And so you have to really clown it up. And as an introvert, I realized how hard that was for me to do at first. But it was so much fun. And when you know, you see the smiles on people’s faces, it was super rewarding and worth it. And it was also very good exercise. So that was–I can’t believe I was ever a Zumba teacher! I had to give it up for work, and because I got hurt. [laughing] It was fun though.

Ben: I would have a hard time maintaining a smile or big smile in front of everyone. That’s great! Andrea, I want to thank you again for being a guest on the podcast. It’s been a great conversation and who knows down the line maybe we’ll find some new things to talk about and record another session.

Andrea: Thanks so much, Ben. It’s been fantastic!

 

 

Extras

Women in Security (Not Insecurity) panel at EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference 2019

Cover Slide for Women in Security (not insecurity) panel at EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference 2019

 


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Andrea Childress headshot

Episode 029: Andrea Childress–Building Social Skills and Networking

Category:EDUCAUSE,Higher Education,Information Security,introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 029 Show Notes: Andrea Childress

Introduction

Andrea Childress and Ben Woelk discuss building social skills as an introvert, networking, and the importance of mentoring. Note: Andrea is now UNK Chief Information Officer and University of Nebraska Assistant Vice President for Information Technology Services .

Andrea Childress headshot

Key concepts

  • You can improve social skills by practicing and intentionally getting out of your comfort zone
  • Initiating relationships with new people can be challenging as an introvert
  • A leadership training program may help you grow your social skills
  • Mentoring is great for your growth; either internally or externally
  • Even an analytical introvert may want to be around people more
  • An intentional meeting framework such as Five Dysfunctions of a Team can lead to more effective meetings

Quotable

If I want to really be a leader I need to step up and I need to reach out more. So I just started pushing myself and believe me it was baby steps at first

I can’t overestimate how valuable it is to have a network, to lean on that network, to provide support to that network

Instead of just sitting there taking notes or scanning my phone while I’m in between sessions or something, I’m trying to look around and meet people

Olympic athletes have a strength and conditioning coach,a skills and drills, coach, a nutritionist. Find mentors that help you be your best in many different areas

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Andrea Childress. Andrea is the Executive Director of Cybersecurity, Governance, Risk, and Compliance for the University of Nebraska. The GRC team provides resources and thought leadership around cybersecurity program management policy, risk assessment, compliance awareness, incident response, privacy and legal requirements. Andrea has a background in application development before moving into management and cybersecurity-focused roles. She has presented at the University of Nebraska Women Advance IT conference and the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. Andrea has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. You can contact Andrea at achildress@nebraska.edu. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversations.

Ben: Hi Andrea. How are you?

Andrea: Hi Ben. I’m good, thank you.

Ben: Welcome to the Hope for the Introvert podcast. Very much looking forward to our conversation today. Can you tell us about your role at the University of Nebraska and what your workplace is like?

Andrea: Sure. Well first of all, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. My role at the University of Nebraska, it’s a little bit complicated, especially right now. I have the GRC executive director role on our cybersecurity and identity team, which actually provides services for all three campuses within the University of Nebraska. And those are in the cities of Kearney, Lincoln, and Omaha. But I’m also at the University of Nebraska at Kearney located physically because I’ve been here for 25 years. I started out as an application developer and worked my way up and now I’m the Deputy CIO in effect. So I’ve been here for a long time and that team of people is about 22 professionals. But two years ago the University of Nebraska, ITS shops combined from our three campuses. So now my ITS department has over 300 people. So there’s been a lot of change in the last two years there.

Ben: So it’s not really centralization because you didn’t move, it’s more of a centralized management?

Andrea: That’s correct. We have leaders on all three of our campuses now and I have people that report to me in both of the other two cities, and my bosses are in other cities as well. So it’s really, it’s really crazy. But we use IM a lot and we talk as much as we can. We use tools like Slack as well and lots and lots of email. But basically, yeah, we have five shared services or scaled services where those things like infrastructure and client services and security, we’re doing them all, or we’re working to provide all those services in the same way across the enterprise in order to scale for efficiencies and to save money.

Ben: Okay. So what’s your workplace like then with this very large extended organization but a small number of people on the Kearney campus?

Andrea: Yeah, it’s really interesting and like I said, it’s been a lot of change for us to get used to and be able to take advantage of that large number of resources. The best advantage for, for my campus here, which I’ll refer to as UN-K (if I say that later).

Andrea: It’s when you said extended that it reminded me of extended family, because we’re small here in Kearney and so we’re kind of like a family, and now that we have these extra people in these other cities. It is like our extended family that we get to work with everyday and lean on really, because we’re greater together. Obviously, because there’s so much more depth than we used to have.

Ben: Okay. So is your organization at Kearney, are you centralized or are you kind of distributed amongst the different colleges?

Andrea: There are three colleges on the Kearney campus, three academic colleges plus plus the graduate. And so some of those colleges have one or two distributed IT people. But those people even have a dotted line to our central IT organization. So we’re sort of a blend. But the Lincoln campus has a lot of distributed IT and Omaha has some as well. So it’s a mix like you find in most systems, I think.

Ben: Okay. And I don’t know how many of our listeners are familiar with information technology and higher education, but it has its own unique set of challenges. I think there’s an assumption on the outside (or maybe not), that everything is centralized and a central group handles all of the different colleges. And I know at least at RIT that that’s certainly not the case. And you have your tensions between more of a centralized IT organization that handles the network, and then you have colleges that have different needs. So they sometimes have their own IT organizations. So it can be–it’s, I would say bit of a zoo, but that may be–that may be accurate. Actually. We’ll go with zoo for now.

Ben: So you’ve identified as an introvert and actually as an Artisan, which is unusual, because most people that are–that come out with the temperament type of Artisans don’t have a lot of interest–at least what I’ve found–in terms of talking about temperament and things like that. So this is actually unusual. So I’m looking really looking forward to the conversation! Talk to me a little bit about what it’s like being an introvert at work or in life in general.

Andrea: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I think early on when I was an application developer, it was not unusual for me to sit in my office almost all day, every day. Periodically there would be meetings where I was meeting with my clients, basically learning the requirements of what they needed to be worked on. Right? But again, I’m on a kind of a small campus. There’s about 7,000 students here. So there’s only about 500 faculty and staff. And I worked in administrative computing in those days. And so it was this very small number of people that I needed to work with, which fit my personality great. Because as an introvert, you have a small number of very close friends, typically, as opposed to the extroverts that have more friends than or acquaintances And I don’t know how close they are to all of them.

Andrea: But I would spend a lot of time alone and I really liked the work there because–I’m also analytical. So when you got done writing a computer program, you could see that the results were correct. You knew when you were done, whether it was right, what you could validate it by, by running some other data’s extracts or something like that. But then as I grew and got a Master’s degree and an MBA, I got a little bored with that and I got tired of being alone all the time. And I learned that I really do want to work with people. And so I moved into management and I started leading the application development team. And then early in the early 2000s when security–cybersecurity became a thing, I started leading that area, which you know, that over-arches all the facets of it and you can’t–we’re not one person or one small team can do security. So you have to work with all of it. And so that’s been great because I do really like to collaborate, and I have learned that working with other people helps you come up with a better answer than you just by yourself. Did that answer your question?

Ben: Yeah, kind of. [laughing] You’ve talked about what it’s like being in your office and going from really a very much sole contributor role to now having moved into management and being around people a lot more. One of the other things that you hit on was how you knew at the end of the day whether something would work or not, because you could run an abstract or a report of some kind around that and tell whether or not it was working. So I’m assuming that it’s a little bit more complicated now. And I’m curious, what do you-how have you found this change to working with people? I realize it’s been a number of years now, but also what do you is your biggest challenges in the workplace as an introvert?

Andrea: Yeah. Well, I do think I’m more analytical at heart than–one of my college professors said, you’re either a touchy-feely manager or you’re a number cruncher, accountant type of person. And I’ve always kind of felt like I was both, but I do think I tend to be more of the number cruncher. And so what I think is challenging is sometimes I like to take extra time to process before I can respond, and that can actually be perceived as inaction, right? Like, why, why haven’t I heard from her? You know? And so I do have to learn to make decisions quicker than I am–more than I am comfortable with, so that I can get back to people in a timely manner as they’re expecting. Otherwise, they think they’ve asked a question and it’s gone into a black hole.

Andrea: But also another challenge for me is initiating relationships with new people. That making myself do that just for the sake of doing that. It’s not hard to meet people when there’s a reason that you’re on the phone or you’re in a meeting, but to just be more outgoing, to get to know people because when you collaborate, you’re giving and you’re also receiving. And so that to me is also very satisfying in a different way, much like writing code and getting the right answers and satisfying that.

Ben: So were there specific steps you took towards being say more social? I don’t want to say that because that sounds like it’s a handicap of some kind–but being more comfortable with initiating conversations with people and things like that?

Andrea: Yeah. mostly it’s just practice and making myself step out of my comfort zone. What got me to the point where I realized I needed to do that was going through a leadership training program. And they were spending a lot of time in this one session about how your network is really important and you would need to be intentional about building your network. And I kind of thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve never built a network.” I’ve just worked with people that happened to cross my path that I needed to work with. And so that just got me thinking, “Wow, you know, if I want to really be a leader I need to step up and I need to reach out more. So I just started pushing myself and believe me it was baby steps at first. Right? You know? [laughing] But now it’s much more common and it’s easier for me to do it.

If I want to really be a leader I need to step up and I need to reach out more. So I just started pushing myself and believe me it was baby steps at first.--Andrea Click To Tweet

Andrea: And what I’ve learned when I’m approaching someone or introducing myself to someone that I don’t know is that generally people are nice and people like to talk about themselves. So if you just ask a question or two, you’re typically gonna get, a conversation. You might learn something and you might be able to share something with them. And it’s usually beneficial. And it’s usually worth it in the end. Even if you don’t have anything to work together or that can benefit either of you at the beginning, if you remember that person’s name you can contact them later and they might be able to help you or you might be able to help them in the future. So that’s really great and really it’s just practice. I just make myself do it when I go somewhere. Instead of just sitting there taking notes or scanning my phone while I’m in between sessions or something, I’m trying to look around and meet people or I talk to someone and ask them a question or something like that.

Instead of just sitting there taking notes or scanning my phone while I'm in between sessions or something, I'm trying to look around and meet people. Andrea Click To Tweet

Ben: So you’ve made it very intentional and really kind of pushing back against what your natural would probably–I know for me, I’m going to check my phone because I don’t really want to talk to anyone right now and they won’t bother me if they know I’m on my phone. And of course then you look across the room and 90% of the people are doing the same thing. So it’s always kind of interesting. You had mentioned in your pre-podcast questionnaire that you had taken part in a workshop or something or had an assignment in an EDUCAUSE workshop where you were required to talk to someone else?

Andrea: Yeah. Yeah. This is a fun story, and this was early on when I was being more intentional about doing this, but I was in a, I think it was a four hour workshop. No, it must’ve been an eight hour workshop because it was right before lunch. And the person who was leading the workshop, she said, “Okay. It’s time for lunch, but I want you to take five minutes.” So we were sitting in round tables, there was probably eight people per table “and turn to someone at your table and ask them their name, ask them where they live and then ask them what a fun fact about themselves is. And so, you know, this was an IT security workshop. And so most people just looked straight down or typed on their computers or got their phones out, or maybe they left the room, They just went to the bathroom or went to lunch early and didn’t, do the exercise. And I was like, “Okay, this is a opportunity to be intentional about this.” That’s in my lap, right? It’s been given to me and how much easier could it possibly be? So I turned to the guy sitting next to me and introduced myself and asked him his name. And it was funny because we had this long conversation, and he was telling me about his daughter who was a competitive handgun–yeah. Competitive shooting with a handgun person [laughing] award-winning I guess. And so it was just really fun. Well then we came back from lunch, and we were getting ready to start the second half of the day. And the workshop presenters said, “Okay, who wants to share something that they learned about their neighbor?” And, you know, instantly all eyes straight down at the table.

Andrea: And so I’m like, “Here I go.” So I stood up and I said, “This person is Kyle. He’s from San Diego and his daughter is an award-winning handgun competitor.” And that’s all I had to do. And then I sat down and one other person out of the whole room of at least 50 people stood up and kind of shared a little something about their neighbor, and no one else would even give eye contact to the person [laughing]. I felt very proud of myself, but also that this was like no big deal. But for me it was a big deal and it was kind of a turning point or a good example of how I was trying to work on that kind of thing. And now it’s much more a natural thing. So I would just say,

Ben: I wonder what the response the facilitator really expected. If they had been around IT people before and to see if anybody–it says something that there are only two people willing to share out of the group there. So that, it is funny. So what do you consider to be your strengths? What are the things that you really bring as an introvert and how do those work out for you? How do you leverage those?

Andrea: That’s a good question. Yeah. I think when I was talking before about how introverts have a small number of really close friends, the way I see that translating into my professional life is my ability to build relationships with people. I’m very I’m empathetic and I believe that I build really good relationships with those people that I work with, and I trust them and they trust me. And so I think that has worked out really well. And then also I think my analytical ability, which I am not 100% sure if that is an introvert characteristic. But I work in risk management now. So,they kind of go hand in hand, and I have this analytical thought process, so I think it’s great for the security realm. Because security works collaboratively across the IT organization, I get to feel that collaboration a lot or I get to use that collaboration skill, but really those one-on-one relationships can– you can’t even measure the value. It’s just fantastic being able to build a good relationship. And I’ve had a lot of feedback from people in that regard, “You, you act like you really care about me” and I’m like, “I do.” I don’t know why people would be surprised by that.

You can't even measure the value one-on-one relationships . It's just fantastic being able to build a good relationship. Andrea Click To Tweet

Ben: It’s really interesting to have empathy as one of your strengths, I think. And I don’t–I think that’s definitely the case for some introverts. I know my temperament type. I’m an INTJ, and I’m not supposed to have empathy for anything or anyone whatsoever. And it doesn’t really work out that way, but it’s kind of the, “Oh,. you’re the logical person. Emotions don’t sway you, and blah blah blah.” But none of us, we don’t fit those categories all that well anyway. So in what ways have you found that you’re an influencer or leader in the workplace? And in our next segment we’ll talk about women in leadership and your passion about that and what you’re accomplishing there. But in general, what ways have you been an influencer or leader?

Andrea: Wow. There’s probably a number of them, but currently in the last two years since our IT organization is combined across the University of Nebraska, there’s a security managers team that’s been working together–the service managers and the people that actually manage teams. And so this sort of new group is thrown together and we’re not really given a direction. We know we have to work together. We don’t really know how. And so a few meetings into it, I was kind of thinking to myself, “Well, I don’t really get what we’re working towards on this team. It’s like we get together and we share information, but we don’t have a real purpose or you know, it’s not great, these meetings.” Right? So I started trying to get this team to think about what we needed to be learning from each other and telling each other on a weekly or biweekly basis.

Andrea: We changed our scheduling up quite a bit. And then I read this book called the Five Dysfunctions of a Team about making high performing teams. And so I started getting that group to do some of the things in that book and I shared with them all the takeaways. The author of that book is Patrick Lencioni and then he has his second book called Death by Meetings. Which is fantastic. And so we changed our meeting structure to follow that–the way that book describes part of his, his strategy in the book. And it’s been fantastic. It’s kind of night and day how we started to work better together and early on the five dysfunctions of a team work that we did. It’s a lot of sharing feedback with each other, getting to know each other, mentoring each other. And so that’s the kind of thing you have to do. You have to get to know people before you’re comfortable pushing back on their–what they’re saying or questioning or asking them a hard question to make sure that we’re moving in the right direction. But that’s really important. In security. I mean there’s so much work to do and you can’t possibly do it all. So making sure we’re doing it the right way and the best way.

Ben: Yeah, I agree with you on that. And I think in the security realm, none of us know everything and to even pretend that we do, or to try to hold on information and not share it is one of the ways you end up with real problems. Because, “Well, if I had known that was an issue, we could have worked together to solve it,” as opposed to, “Oh, now we’ve had this incident.” And it was because we didn’t talk enough initially to start it. I’ve also been on those dysfunctional teams where getting to know each other and casual conversation was really discouraged, [Andrea laughing] and they were not–they were not enjoyable and maybe they were somewhat effective, but I think that had more to do with the fact that people were, “We’re talking to each other anyway,” and wanted very much to work together to make things work regardless of how the team was functioning or how the team was managed. So I think it’s a really important thing. Like I said, it’s much broader than just IT and the whole idea of high performing teams. I love the Death by Meetings !I have not read the book, but we’ve all experienced it and probably experienceit still very, very often. What recommendations do you have for introverts who want to become influencers or leaders?

Andrea: Okay. Well I guess I would go back to the networking thing. I can’t overestimate how valuable it is to have a network, to lean on that network, to provide support to that network. When you have a problem at work and you realize, “Hey, I have to go work with Ben, but I’ve never met Ben before.” If you have already built a relationship, it’s so much easier to deal with whatever that problem is. And that is the case at any level, whether you’re just starting out or if you’re a CIO. Right? So try to get over that networking fear if you have it like I had it as well. And just remember people are nice. They like to talk about themselves. They like to talk about themselves. It’s the easiest way to get it started [laughing]

I can't overestimate how valuable it is to have a network, to lean on that network, to provide support to that network. Andrea Click To Tweet

Ben: Networking has come up as a theme several times in the podcast interviews. And I think a lot of the issue stems from people’s perception of what networking really means. And rather than the, “Oh. The’re 25 people in this room, I have to meet all 25 people and I have to have speed dating,” essentially you’re speed networking. And just spend that five minutes with each one of them and move on to the next person, compared to, they’re 25 people in the room and there are a couple that you might actually spend extensive conversation time with. And then you do get to know each other a little bit. It certainly makes it much easier when you have an opportunity to work together. You now know that person is a good resource for that because you had that in-depth conversation, rather than, “Oh, they work at such and such, and blah, blah, blah, and next?” Which just doesn’t work for me at all. I think many introverts in general have a–I don’t know if it’s a fear of small talk, but the idea of it is in some cases paralyzing and definitely something that we feel like we want to avoid.

Andrea: Right. And I mean, I’ve heard lots of techniques for small talk. If you’re going to an event, check the latest headlines or the latest industry trade news about whatever the conferences you’re attending or something like that. But yeah, just having one or two things in your pocket that you can lean on if you do draw a blank is helpful. And then again, just ask people about themselves.

Andrea: I was going to say one other thing about in what ways have I been an influencer, a leader. And again, going back to I think my strength in empathy and interpersonal relationships, is using a mentoring program, either volunteering to be a mentor or are asking to have a mentor in more than one. You don’t just need one at a time, right? If you’re an Olympic athlete, think of it like this. If you’re an Olympic athlete, you’ve got your strength and conditioning coach, you’ve got your–I don’t know–skills and drills, coach, you have your nutritionist. I mean, you have all these people that are helping you be your best and you need to think about yourself in that way as well in terms of your career. So figuring out what you need help in or where you want to grow and try to find or seek out a mentor if it’s possible. Because that has been really fantastic for me. And, and their only goal if you have a mentor, is to help you figure out how to get to your next level. And so, it’s always mentoring that’s important. Right?

Olympic athletes have a strength and conditioning coach,a skills and drills, coach, a nutritionist. Find mentors that help you be your best in many different areas. Andrea Click To Tweet

Ben: Do you recommend them as an internal mentor or an external mentor? Or maybe it’s some of each. I’m not sure.

Andrea:Yeah, I would say all of the above. I mean, I’ve had them internally across the enterprise here at the University of Nebraska. I’ve I had them through the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. I know I’ve had more, but yeah, just I would take anybody who wanted to be my mentor, because I’ve gained so much knowledge from each relationship that I’ve had. [laughing]

Ben: Great! So, are you mentoring also?

Andrea: Yes. we just started a mentoring program here just within our internal ITS department ,and we just piloted it in the last couple of months and it’s going to be more of full-blown this fall. And I was a mentor in that program. And that’s invaluable just to get to know people on another campus. Right. I mean if you’re not physically in the same city, just spending that time to get to know people is really great.

Ben: Yeah, I’ve found I’ve been more, I think on the mentoring side than being mentored side, but that’s probably my own fault as much as anything. But I’ve found the mentoring relationships to be really–well, they’re very rich and they transform both the mentee and the mentor, and especially, one just getting to know each other better. But as you work with people on specific types of areas that they want to polish up or make stronger, whether it’s an interpersonal or how to handle conflict at work–our favorite thing for all of us–you gain a lot of information from them as well. And a lot of–I think a lot of strategies.

Andrea: True. Right. And when we did our reorganization, I mean there’s a lot of people that are managers now that weren’t before. So we just had a big need for that. And so those of us that had been doing it for a few years were asked to help.

Ben:
Thank you Andrea for being on Hope for the Introvert today. I’m looking forward to our continued conversation as we delve into women in leadership and the challenges that women face there.

 

Extras

Women in Security (Not Insecurity) panel at EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference 2019

Cover Slide for Women in Security (not insecurity) panel at EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference 2019

 


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Megan Mack Headshot

Episode 28: Megan Mack–Introverts and Improvisation

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 028 Show Notes: Megan Mack

Introduction

Megan Mack and Ben Woelk discuss the importance of improvisation exercises for introverts and building communication skills.

Megan Mack Improvisation facilitator

Key concepts

  • Improvisation skills help introverts
  • Improv is about listening and reacting
  • Introverts can be amazing improv facilitators
  • Ben’s Introverts and Leadership class includes an improvisation workshop
  • Mirroring helps communicate with people in a way that’s more effective
  • Improv helps you be more accepting of others’ ideas
  • Work hard, try to be as confident as you can, and trust your instincts.

Quotable

The beautiful thing about improv, especially for introverts, is that it’s all about listening and reacting.

Introverts are such good listeners and they’re good followers. They build upon ideas. I think a lot of the time they have empathy; they have emotional intelligence.

Mirroring helps communicate with people in a way that’s more effective both for them and for myself.

Improv really forces you to think, Yes, I like your idea and here’s how we can try to make it work.

We get stuck in our heads, we stop listening and we think our ideas can be the only ideas or the best ones or the right ones.

‘Yes, and’ has been very important for me to understand, especially in leadership positions and you want to have a persona that is supportive of people and not setting an atmosphere where they’re afraid to advance their ideas.

 

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Megan Mack. Megan Mack is an improviser, sketch comedy writer, and television and radio producer based in Rochester. She is a graduate of the Conservatory and Writing programs at The Second City Training Centre in Toronto, and has studied with Jimmy Carrane, Armando Diaz, Susan Messing, and T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Megan performs with the sketch comedy and improvisation troupe, “Thank You Kiss,” and coaches improv and sketch comedy at the Rochester Brainery, Writers & Books, the Focus Theatre, and more. When she’s not on stage, Megan produces “Connections with Evan Dawson,” the daily afternoon radio talk show at Rochester’s NPR station, WXXI. She has also produced television segments for WHEC-TV, NBC Olympics, NBC Entertainment, and Seeten TV in Florence, Italy. I first met Megan at one of her improvisation classes at the Rochester Brainery. Since then, she’s conducted improvisation workshops for me for the STC Rochester Spectrum Conference and my Introverts and Leadership class at RIT. You can contact Megan at mac.megan01@gmail.com.

Ben: Welcome back, Megan. I’m glad you’re joining us again on the program. Today we’re going to talk about improvisation and communication and introverts doing improv, which almost sounds counter-intuitive in some ways. We had started the last time we spoke about how you had gotten started in improv and my first contact with you was attending one of your improv workshops at the Rochester Brainery. And one thing I probably have not told you about that is I refused to let my wife come with me because it was my first time doing improv, and I was afraid I was going to be an absolute idiot and I’ll do it the first time and I’ll just get through it. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it also and I’ve always enjoyed watching it and being part of the audience, but it in some ways it’s such a freeing type of activity, I guess once you get past your own head with it. Let’s talk a little bit more about what it’s like to be an introvert, yet you teach improv.

Megan: It’s as you mentioned in our previous segment, it can be hard for you to be up in front of a class sometimes and it’s very hard. The most difficult part of improv classes for me is starting the class, talking a little bit about myself and just talking about the basics of improv. Not that I’m uncomfortable talking about improv, but I don’t want to be me. Once we get into character work, I’m fine and I have a great time, but it can be intimidating, especially as an introvert to be up in front of a group of people and be leading the class .

Ben: Well and they’re all looking to you.

Megan: Right! Everybody’s looking at you.

Ben: Completely, especially at the beginning because–and one thing that you’ve done, is you just helped me with my Introverts and Leadership class I’m doing at RIT, and we’re going to get to do that again in the fall, which will be great fun. But some of the students shared that in all honesty, they almost didn’t sign up for the class because there was an improvisation workshop part of it, and at least one or two of them were really uncomfortable with being there. And eventually they relaxed. But you could certainly tell up front.

Megan: I hear that a lot, especially when I work with companies that ask me to come in and do team building exercises. But the beautiful thing about improv, especially for introverts, is that it’s all about listening and reacting. So the basic rule of improv is, you know, is say “Yes, and.” You want to agree to someone else’s ideas and build on them. But you can’t do that unless you’re actively listening. So I’m going to work off whatever you give me, and I know that you’re giving me something. We call it a gift or an offer in improv. You don’t have to put any pressure on yourself to come up with something because your team is there to support you, to have your back. So I was terrified in my first ever improv class. But once I realized we’re all here together, we’re all going to help each other and we all need to listen to each other and it got so much easier.

The beautiful thing about improv, especially for introverts, is that it's all about listening and reacting. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Megan: And I’m sure there are exercises that are more difficult than others. I can think of some that I still am not a huge fan of to this day and I’ve been doing this for more than a decade. But you can find the confidence within yourself because you know you’ve got a team around you and because introverts are such good listeners and they’re good followers. They build upon ideas. I think a lot of the time they have empathy; they have emotional intelligence. It can be a natural thing to be in an improv scene. It’s not about performing. It’s about reacting.

Introverts are such good listeners and they're good followers. They build upon ideas. I think a lot of the time they have empathy; they have emotional intelligence. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: And I think that’s a really good point. And when we’ve, well one thing that we did, we kind of put together a syllabus for the class and with the exercises that we were going to be using, and there was no way I was going to share it with the class ahead of time because they would try to prepare for it. And the question came up, even with a team building that you’re going to be doing with us of, “Well, what exercises? What are we going to do?” I’m not going to tell you what we’re going to do because you’ll try to practice and be ready for it and it just does not work that way,

Megan: Right? It goes back to getting in your head. So if you’re trying to come up with scene ideas, or character ideas, or something to say when you’re standing on the back line watching a scene, you’re not actively listening. It’s better to go out there. I always tell students, go out there when you’re the most scared, when you have the most anxiety because you’re thinking the least. You’re so nervous that you’ll go out there and you’ll take whatever you’re given and you’ll build on it. It’s better than thinking, well, I haven’t been out there yet and I haven’t been really funny, but I have this old lady character that I know is going to work, so I’m going to go out there and play this old lady. This scene could be about a couple on a honeymoon. On a beach was this woman there. Now it makes no sense. I mean you could make it work, I’m sure, but the point is you’re not actively listening.

Ben: No, it’s not. It’s not a natural thing to make that work necessarily either. [Megan, “Right”] Yeah, it was really entertaining. The first session that I did with you, and I think I’ve done a couple with you there and we’ve done the other ones and I’ve even stepped into co-facilitating some improv at a conference, which was an interesting experience, too, because the guy I was partnered with was a hundred percent extrovert. I mean as extroverted as you could possibly be, and then I’m not, and just the mix in terms of how we worked with people, it was just–it was kind of crazy.

Megan: How did that go?

Ben: I think overall it worked. I had a lot of people who signed up for it because they trusted me and I felt very validated by it, but also felt like, “Oh, I need to make sure that my very extroverted friend doesn’t go totally over the top with things which he could do.” But overall it was a fun experience. It was tiring. It was two, two-hour sessions in two days as part of the conference activities along with everything else that was going on with it of course. And I really enjoyed it.

Ben: And part of what really got me excited about improv was Alan Alda’s book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, where he has spent this time with Stonybrook-Long Island and set up this Institute for helping science and medical professionals communicate, and just talking about how valuable that improv work is for them because they learn to be active listeners and they learn to empathize. And I kind of took that and looked at it and said, well how will that work for introverts? Because I feel like–well RIT, honestly, yes, we have that same type of personality types as scientists or medical professionals anyway, but in general, how would these same techniques work for improv?

Ben: And it was really exciting this last spring when we did our morning, yes, Saturday morning early improv session, which was a challenge for everyone there. But it was really exciting because you saw–I mean there were some struggles, definitely some struggles at times typically when they weren’t being physical enough in a scene. But in general, the follow-up survey I did, it’s like everyone nailed it. They all really loved you, but they all understood what they were getting out of it in terms of communication skills and that part was really, really rewarding. Honestly, it was a five week class. It was an online class. I had them read books, I had them write reflection papers, we did an improv workshop. I didn’t feel like I was working at all, because it was so much fun and I’m looking forward to being able to offer that again this fall as well.

Megan: I read the book that you mentioned after you told me about it. I zipped through it in two days. I learned so much from that book and one of the greatest things I learned was about mirroring. I’ve done the mirroring exercises before in my classes, but I thought I need to apply this more to my professional life and I have and it has just been so eye-opening for me, whether it’s noticing body language or vocal choices or just how someone is feeling. It’s really, really been beneficial.

Ben: Yeah, and found–I’ve been in another workshop and they did the mirroring and they did it for like 60 seconds and that was so hard, because you realize I really should not have had quite as intense an emotion I was trying to portray. To do that for 60 seconds–How much can you yell and shout? And it’s like, Oh my gosh, we still have 40 seconds left. But it was, it was interesting. So what did you find most helpful with the mirroring?

Megan: I think I’m pretty in tune with body language and how people are feeling a lot of the time. But there was a section of the book where they were talking about mirroring in a negative sense, and I think it was for salespeople. I’m not sure if you remember this and I can’t, I can’t quite remember what it was about. Fill me in if you do. But it felt kind of sneaky and dirty and wrong and just kind of trickster-type stuff, and I thought about it in terms of journalism and you know, you don’t want to bait and switch people, which–and we don’t do, but sometimes we get pitches from PR people that are not quite there and they try to sell you a bill of goods. And I think I’ve been able to communicate with people in a way that’s more effective both for them and for myself when it comes to knowing we have a shared goal to have someone on the show, but we want very different things out of it.

Mirroring helps communicate with people in a way that's more effective both for them and for myself. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Megan: So to try to help see that side a little better. I’m not implying that PR people are tricksters, but you know, I’m working from my own frame of reference, which they don’t have and they’re working from their own. So I think it’s helped me open my mind a little bit. But the way that this–I think it was a company that Alan Alda was talking about that was employing these techniques for negative purposes, like try to trick people by mirroring their body language or adopting their emotion so they can feel like they’re being listened to, they’re being heard, or they can relate to you better. And then try to sneak your way in, because I don’t like that at all. But the positive thing I took away from that was try to understand where someone’s coming from and meet them halfway.

Ben: Yeah. No, I would agree. And I do remember that part that you were talking about and it’s interesting because I do some workshops on temperament and what that means in terms of how you interact with people in the workplace. But as part of that, you also learn triggers, which can be very negative for people. And it’s almost like you have to have this, please promise, you’re just going to use this for good because you know now what this certain temperament type, what’s really going to impact them in a negative way. So giving you this information, but we’re trusting you to not be cruel with it in a sense. And there’s a Cialdini book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasuion, which gets into a lot of this too. And it’s really kind of frightening because it really does talk about how we can be influenced towards certain things and just not have any sense at all.

Ben: And like so when you get into the mirroring and that could be used for that because, “Oh, I’ve had the connection with you now and now I’m listening and buy the brushes or whatever.”

Megan: You’re explaining it much better than I did, but yeah! [Laughing].

Ben: So what else do you find in terms of improv and how that’s, I mean have you thought about it more in the introvert context and around communication? Because you’ve been teaching these classes for a while and I kind of brought this, “Well what if we look at it like this and how that applies?” What do you find now? Are you more aware of how it works towards communication skills?

Megan: Yes, I think I am. I think I’ve learned that as a whole, people have a tendency to go to the know or to ask a question, and maybe you’re working on a project with your colleague, and they have an idea and you’re like, “Well that won’t work because X,” and improv really forces you to think, “Yes, I like your idea and here’s how we can try to make it work.” That’s been really the most beneficial thing for me.

Improv really forces you to think, Yes, I like your idea and here's how we can try to make it work. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah. I’m very good at, “Oh, I know why that won’t work .” and learning…

Megan:  You’re a problem solver, right?

Ben: Yeah. And it’s like, well, I wouldn’t even consider that, but then it’s like, no, I need to step back and that “Yes, and” part’s really important. Well, one for creating that open environment where people trust you and it’s safe for them to express ideas, but also because well I might actually be wrong and I need to hear these ideas out and wow, that was a great idea.

Megan: Absolutely. I’ve noticed how wrong I am in so many ways, [Both Laughing] thanks to improv, but we get in our own heads. We get stuck in our heads, we stop listening and we think our ideas can be the only ideas or the best ones or the right ones. And when you’re in a scene with someone and you have no idea what’s coming your way, you have to trust your scene partner and know that they’re trying to make you look good. That’s one of the biggest lessons I learned at Second City. Make your partner look good. It’s not about you. So if I go into a scene with you, Ben, and my goal is to help you shine and you have the same goal for me, then we’re going to do a great scene because we’re not being judgmental, we’re not being narcissistic, we’re there to support each other.

We get stuck in our heads, we stop listening and we think our ideas can be the only ideas or the best ones or the right ones. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Megan: So I think you can translate a lot of that into a workplace or in social settings. You know, maybe you’re at a coffee shop with your friends, and you notice as an introvert probably would that one person’s not saying too much, or maybe they don’t feel included and you’ll try to create a situation in which you can draw them in, or you know, the next time they say something you “Yes, and’ it in your own non-technical improv way, but you bring them into the conversation. And I think that’s been really helpful for me.

Ben: I think that’s really cool. What suggestions would you have for people who might–for introverts who might want to become leaders or influencers? And I don’t want to cut off the improv conversation if we have more to talk about there, but I’m not sure what the next question would be. So any thoughts?

Megan: I’m kind of curious about your experience with improv and how it’s helped you, because you came to a Brainery class as you said by yourself, didn’t bring Marilyn and you came back and you brought her and now you’re teaching it on your own. So there’s something that must have been really triggering in a positive way for you. Some kind of light bulb moment where you thought, this is really helping me. This is really something that I can latch onto.

Ben: You know, it’s a really interesting question because I don’t know that I’ve stepped back from it enough to really think about why it is I think it’s important. Obviously I do, because I’ve included it in this Introverts and Leadership class and understand the techniques I think to some degree, but it’s why am I gravitating towards it besides watching Whose Line is it Anyway for however many years and that sort of thing and just thoroughly enjoying it. I think I’ve always–even though my temperament type, I think I’m supposed to be more of a planner, but I’m also able to change plans on the fly, and I think the improv is kind of like that also because you don’t know what’s coming next. But I think for me it’s a really tough question. I just don’t feel like I’ve thought it through completely, but I think the “Yes, and” part has been very important for me to understand, especially in leadership positions and you want to have a persona that is supportive of people and not setting an atmosphere where they’re afraid to advance their ideas.

'Yes, and' has been very important for me to understand, especially in leadership positions and you want to have a persona that is supportive of people and not setting an atmosphere where they're afraid to advance their ideas.… Click To Tweet

Ben: And that part’s very important to me. There was another book by Daniel Coyle called The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups and it was about high performing organizations and the cultures they built, and I’ve been part of governance bodies or boards in various organizations where that atmosphere was not there. They kind of hit all of the five dysfunctions of a board or however many of it is very well, and there was a lot of attempt to control around things, and I think I’ve become very sensitized towards that now and understanding that, especially in leadership positions, that I need to make sure that I’m giving everyone an opportunity to speak, to contribute, to feel–to belong really, I think is a large part of it. Now exactly how that translates back to going to improv. I found it–I just thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoy the scenes. I enjoy some of the Goon River, you know, some of the other ones that we’ve talked about where you’re talking about this is the day you died.

Megan: You create a character and all of these characters live in the same town together and they all have happened to have died on the same day and all their deaths are interrelated.

Ben: And those were just so funny. In the session I did the one–second Brainery session I did with you where, I don’t remember what the name of the town was, but where the person next to me actually played–decided I’ll be the horse. It was really eye opening to me. It’s kind of like, “Oh wow, we don’t have to be people characters.” And so I remember when we did the one with the class, I was a flying squirrel.

Megan: I remember that. {laughing].

Ben: Named Rocky, of course, had to be. A flying squirrel, but just how much fun it was thinking about how that interwove with the other stories. You know, is was a kind of dark story, if I remember right, the way that one went.

Megan: I think so [laughing].

Ben: But in general, it’s just a lot of fun. I think I’ve, I like a sense, yes you are making it up as you go along, but you are working with people and you absolutely don’t know where things are going to go. And there’s a lot of freedom to that, because you’re not trying to reach a certain goal. And I think that actually is a big difference for me, because I have so many things that I participate in that are very goal oriented and to be able to just play and have fun and get outside my head in the sense of not thinking about what I’m going to look like once I got past the first time of doing it. And it’s like, “Oh this is no big deal.” But just the freedom of participating in something like that and seeing what kind of story you can build. So I think that’s what was the real hook for me. I’ve always loved it when the, some of the staging around the Whose Line and they would do the newsroom and all of that sort of thing and just how ridiculous it would get.

Improv--the freedom of participating in something like that and seeing what kind of story you can build. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: I think that’s why I’m really enjoying it and for the class that I’m teaching, working with introverts and helping them understand what that means and that they have strengths, and some of that is introducing them to Cain’s Quiet book and things like that. It’s the first time they’ve read through the things and it’s like you see the light bulbs go on and more importantly than that, you see people who have felt hindered or have felt like they are in some sense of a strong word, “defective” in some sense or just not measuring up to everyone else. And being able to talk with them about what it means to be an introvert and to lead and how to be authentic, which is the other big piece of it. That has been tremendously rewarding and I think the improv work has helped a lot with that also.

Megan: I hear from a lot of first time students, I ask the question, what brought you here? What do you hope to learn? A lot of them say, “I don’t know why I’m here and I’m really scared.” And I say, “Thank you for being here. I hope you have fun. Just focus on having fun. “And at the end of the class I always check back in with people and they’ll say things like, “I didn’t know I could do that.” It’s in you, but because you’re so worried about how you’re perceived or what people could be judging about you, you get in your head. And I think one of the greatest rewards of improv, and this relates back to your class, when I helped with your students. At the end of that three hours or whatever it was, they could say, “I got up in front of people I didn’t know. I was in scenes that I had no idea was coming my way and I succeeded.” So if you can do that, you can get up and give a presentation of information that you’re already comfortable with. If you can do a scene where you’re a flying squirrel and people love it, you can give your next presentation about whatever it is you specialize in.

Improv--I got up in front of people I didn't know. I was in scenes that I had no idea was coming my way and I succeeded. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: Well then I couldn’t figure out how to make the mime thing work, which was the other thing I had thought about. It’s like, “Nah, it’s too hard. We’ll do the flying squirrel.” Maybe one day of the mime. But it’s a very hard role to do for something.

Megan: Yeah. You have to rely on your body language.

Megan: And so yeah, overthinking what the possibilities are with that. So if we were looking at an introvert who wants to be a leader, wants to be an influencer, we’ve talked a lot about the improvisation techniques and I think given what we’ve talked about, there’s tremendous amount of value. I can’t imagine not recommending someone do improv no matter how terrified they are. But what would you see as the top things that an introvert should do who wants to become a leader or influencer?

Megan: I’d say the top thing is just be confident with who you are. And this is something that I’ve struggled with and I’ve come to realize is that you may be in a role that is perceived in a certain way. You are supposed to be this. If you are this, you’re supposed to be very outspoken. If you’re someone that’s on the radio or like that. I’m not, I know a few of my colleagues are not, but they’re good at what they do because they are who they are. So take those innate abilities, be confident in the unique skills that you have, and just “Yes, and” those to use an improv phrase. Just be confident with yourself and try to build your leadership abilities based on that. Because what’s the point of trying to be something you’re not? Then you feel more uncomfortable. You feel–you have impostor syndrome, you get in your head, you freeze up, you clam up and it serves the exact opposite purpose of what you want. So as I mentioned before, when I’m filling in for the host of the show, my job is not to be him. My job is to be me and do the best job I can. So it’s a learning curve. But being open minded, being competent and trusting yourself, those would be my top three.

Just be confident with yourself and try to build your leadership abilities based on that. Because what's the point of trying to be something you're not? Then you feel more uncomfortable. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Introverts as leaders--being open minded, being competent and trusting yourself, those would be my top three. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: And being authentic is a big chunk of it.

Megan: Absolutely. And you mentioned that with scenes to an improv. If you play a character and you’ve never played a flying squirrel before, I’m sure, but you played it very authentically and I believed it and it was great.

Ben: What people don’t know! So in terms of that, and I actually think I pulled this off of your questionnaire, but I’m not sure, what is one thing about you that people would be surprised to know?

Megan: Hmm. I think for people that are not my very close friends might be surprised to know that I struggle a lot with insecurity and that stops me in my tracks multiple times a day. I think that would be, that would be it. Not–not it and there’s nothing else, but that would be the thing, because I’m sure after we finish talking, I’m going to overanalyze everything I said for a couple of hours and it’ll drive me crazy. And I wish that I didn’t have that part of me. But it’s there and it’s something that you try to work through.

Megan: And improv has helped me a lot when I’m really struggling, I turn on my improv brain and the judgy parts of myself go away. So I wish I could draw on that a little more.

Ben: You know, I appreciate you sharing that because I definitely have the insecurities too, and a lot of it has to do with who I’m dealing with and how I feel about that. And I am just as capable of feeling stupid and clumsy and everything else. And I think that is something–things like the improv, just getting out of your head and just doing what you need to do, or trying things and not being afraid to try things, I think is a lot of it and not worrying about failing in that sense. No, I can’t say I’ve mastered that lately either. So Megan, this has been wonderful. I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity to chat and you said overthinking things. I am going to be editing, so I’ll be…

Megan: I have a list of things I want you to remove, so we’ll chat. [Both Laughing]

Ben: Oh, I’ll bet. I’ll bet so. No, this has been a great conversation and I really appreciate you taking the time and very much looking to you on the next improv workshop that we do. Thank you.

Megan: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

 

Extras


  • 1
Megan Mack Headshot

Episode 027: Megan Mack–Empathy and Meaningful Discourse

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

Episode 027 Show Notes: Megan Mack

Introduction

Megan Mack and Ben Woelk talk about empathy, meaningful discourse and countering hate speech, not being the loudest voice in the room, and trusting your instincts.

Megan Mack headshot

Key concepts

  • Producing a WXXI radio program
  • Advantages of not being the loudest voice in the room
  • Turned your internal monologue off and stopping judging yourself
  • Countering hate speech with more speech
  • Introverts and group work
  • Active listening
  • Work hard, try to be as confident as you can, and trust your instincts.

Quotable

There’s a tendency in today’s society to quickly judge. Empathy helps me step back sometimes and say, “You know, why do I think this person is acting this way?

It’s such a polarized society right now and a lot of what I would describe as very strident voices and not necessarily well reasoned. So empathy is a great gift.

Some people argue counter hate speech with more speech and I tend to agree with that. So, we can just keep talking.

I am not the loudest voice in the room. And I think sometimes that comes in really handy because I can just sit back, take in everything else and then move forward where I need to.

Running the show alone has given me the confidence to know that I can trust my decisions, and I can be on air, I can be behind the scenes, I can engineer anything they throw at me. If I work hard enough, I can do it.

I think the skills that I’ve applied in the producer area have also found their way into Improv. Work hard, try to be as confident as you can, and trust your instincts.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Megan Mack. Megan Mack is an improviser, sketch comedy writer, and television and radio producer based in Rochester. She is a graduate of the Conservatory and Writing programs at The Second City Training Centre in Toronto, and has studied with Jimmy Carrane, Armando Diaz, Susan Messing, and T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Megan performs with the sketch comedy and improvisation troupe, “Thank You Kiss,” and coaches improv and sketch comedy at the Rochester Brainery, Writers & Books, the Focus Theatre, and more. When she’s not on stage, Megan produces “Connections with Evan Dawson,” the daily afternoon radio talk show at Rochester’s NPR station, WXXI. She has also produced television segments for WHEC-TV, NBC Olympics, NBC Entertainment, and Seeten TV in Florence, Italy. I first met Megan at one of her improvisation classes at the Rochester Brainery. Since then, she’s conducted improvisation workshops for me for the STC Rochester Spectrum Conference and my Introverts and Leadership class at RIT. You can contact Megan at mac.megan01@gmail.com.

Ben: Hi Megan.

Megan: Hi. Thanks for having me, Ben.

Ben: Welcome to the Hope for the Introvert podcast. I’m looking forward to our conversation.

Megan: Likewise. Thank you.

Ben: So can you tell us a little bit about your role at WXXI and what the workplace is like?

Megan: I produce Connections with Evan Dawson, as you mentioned, it’s our daily talk show. We do two hours every day, so that’s 10 hours a week. It works out to about 500 hours a year of live radio, which is a lot. [laughing] You’re booking all of those guests and all of that time and researching all those topics. But it keeps me on my toes and it’s a wonderful job. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. Since we’re an NPR station, we have a listenership that’s really respectful and educated and engaged with our content. So that’s really fun for me. On the production side, to hear from listeners every day; to talk to people in the community about what matters to them, the types of shows that they want to hear, what they want to learn, and the types of guests that they can offer us.

Megan: So that’s really great. Our building here, we have a lot of people that work at WXXI. I’m in the radio department and we have a very close knit family here. I share an office with two or three other people depending on the day. It’s a big space, but we all work on similar projects. So we work a lot together every single day and we’re friends, so that’s great. But we also reach out, respect each other’s spaces. So if my colleagues are working on a piece, that I’m not involved in, I go do my own thing and if they need help I can help them. So it’s a nice collaborative environment where we’re not really focused on breaking news, we’re more focused on the context of stories and why they matter. So that collaborative nature plus being given the time and the resources to work on things is perfect for an introvert, because you can work at your own pace and and at the levels that you’d like.

Ben: Well, great! So how does your time break out? Do you have more on-air time? More off air time?

Megan: I’m behind the scenes for the most part. So my day is spent booking shows, researching guests and content and posting shows on the web, editing radio shows, things of that nature. So I do a lot. I do all of the production work for the show with the assistance of our engineer who runs the board for us, a talented guy named Brad Braden, and I also engineer the show when he’s out, or I host the show when Evan’s out. So I do a little bit of everything, which is nice. It’s a good way to multitask and learn new skills, but for the most part I’m behind the scenes.

Ben: So do you find the on air part challenging then?

Megan: Yes! Yes! It’s, it’s tough. As an introvert, you probably understand you don’t often want to be the center of attention. And I’ve taken on a different way of thinking when I’m hosting the show. I learned very early on in my colleague Hélène Biandudi for helped me see this, that it’s not my job to be Evan when he’s not there. It’s my job to be me and to host the show as best I can, and to bring the quality of the show to the listeners, but in my own way. And so that’s been a journey and a learning experience over the past four years. But if I turned my internal monologue off and I stopped judging myself (and that all relates to Improv, which I’m sure we’ll talk about). Once I do that and I just focus on the issues that we’re talking about, the research that we have, I can get into a zone where I feel pretty comfortable sometimes. Most of the time it gets easier the more you do it.

Ben: No, I understand that. I mean even even doing a podcast, there is sometimes a bit of an awkwardness to it and I’ve gotten used to it, but initially it was just this–how can I possibly even talk for two or three minutes by myself and be able to stand it. So it is interesting and I do understand at least in a small portion what it must be like to be on air for that. Really the same kind of thing. Teaching a class or doing a presentation or anything else. Once I stop worrying about me and try to engage the audience, it makes a big difference in terms of how I approach things in general. You’ve identified as an introvert and actually as an INFJ, and I think you’re like the sixth INFJ on the program this year, which is crazy because it’s supposed to be the most rare type.

Megan: Yeah. Less than 1% of the population I think is INFJ,

Ben: So for whatever reason…

Megan: You’re finding all of them apparently.

Ben: Or apparently I collect them or however this actually works. So it’s pretty funny. so you’re an INFJ, you’re an introvert. How does that affect how you approach your work and really life in general?

Megan: I think being an introvert and especially being an INFJ, I have a lot of empathy toward people and working in the news industry in the broadcast–I think there’s a tendency, especially in today’s society, to quickly judge ,and having that empathetic part of my nature, which I really appreciate, helps me step back sometimes and say, “You know, why do I think this person is acting this way?” Either if it’s a guest or someone that we’ve read about in a news story, or even in an Improv class where maybe someone made a choice that I don’t understand or I think is a “bad choice.” I don’t like the word bad, but not a choice I would have made. It doesn’t serve the purpose of the scene. There’s always a reason behind it. Someone has a story. They may be bringing baggage into a scene.

There's a tendency in today's society to quickly judge. Empathy helps me step back sometimes and say, You know, why do I think this person is acting this way? @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Megan: You know, if someone does something out in the community–that could be a crime, oftentimes they’ve had a traumatic life. They’ve gone through really difficult experiences, which doesn’t excuse the crime, but it helps you understand where they’re coming from. And that leads to what I mentioned before–the context of stories. So having that empathetic nature and emotional intelligence and those pieces of being an introvert help me ask questions beyond the questions that I think are the normal questions you would ask.

Ben: You talked about being an empath and this tendency is such a polarized society right now and a lot of what I would describe as very strident voices and not necessarily well reasoned. So the empathy is a great gift. Or do you find it tiring?

It's such a polarized society right now and a lot of what I would describe as very strident voices and not necessarily well reasoned. So empathy is a great gift. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Megan: Sometimes. Sometimes I think we are often good listeners and it can be difficult to speak up for ourselves sometimes. Maybe I’m generalizing too much, but I’ve listened to some of your episodes and I know some of your guests have mentioned similar comments. So yeah, sometimes it can be tiring. I don’t know how to overcome that and maybe that’s something that I’ll learn in my life, I hope. But it can be draining. Absolutely.

Ben: Yeah. And I’m not sure whether it–whether it even is something to overcome. It’s like you said, it’s a gift and I’m not sure. I mean, yeah, it may be tiring. There may not be a way around that.

Megan: We’ve had a lot of conversations on the show about meaningful discourse. So if you and I were sitting here and we had a fundamental disagreement about an issue which, you know, choose anything in today’s society and we come from very different viewpoints, I think a lot of people would just say, “You know, Ben, you’re wrong and I’m not going to listen to you.”

Megan: And you could say the same thing about me. And then the conversation stops and I’m evil, you’re evil, you know, no movement. But through these conversations on the show and then being an empath, you try to understand why do you feel this way? What is the foundation of your belief? And maybe I want to try to change it, but if I do and I feel like it needs to be changed for whatever reason, I can approach it in a way that is beneficial to you and doesn’t make you feel threatened and vice versa. I’m not saying you’re always wrong, Ben.

Ben: But no, we won’t go there for sure! And I’m an INTJ so I am, I am absolutely convinced I’m always right. Of course. [Megan laughing] And everything can be argued through and reasoned. It’s interesting, I read a book by Sebastian Junger called Tribes. I think it’s The Essence of Belonging or The Meaning of Belonging. I don’t have it quite right, but he talked a lot about civil discourse and how that’s really kind of disappeared from the country, and drew the parallel between the country post-911 and how unified everyone was and very concerned about terrorism. And He makes statements that basically there isn’t a whole lot they need to do now. They can just kind of watch us tear ourselves apart. And the polarization does not seem to be decreasing at all. So I don’t know. I do worry about where we’re going to be as a society, but I have no idea what to do about that either.

Megan: I think some people argue counter hate speech with more speech and I tend to agree with that. So, I don’t know, we can just keep–we can keep talking.

Some people argue counter hate speech with more speech and I tend to agree with that. So, we can just keep talking. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: I don’t know. We’ve gone into a very heavy discussion.

Megan: I know! I didn’t mean to do that. I’m sorry.

Ben: No, no, no. I think you’re…

Megan: We are on a news station.

Ben: I think I helped lead us there. So, okay, so you’re an empath, so that’s obviously one of your biggest strengths as an introvert, what else do you see as your strengths and in what ways do you leverage them?

Megan: I think being a good listener absolutely helps me with my job and being a producer. I have to manage many different things at one time and we have issues that come up on the show or mini–crisis that may happen. And then another one pops up and you have to be in many places and at the same time. And I think being able to listen to everybody at once and try to pull all of the collective suggestions and try to move forward has been helpful.

Megan: Again, I’m not one to again want to be the center of attention. I am not the loudest voice in the room. And I think sometimes that comes in really handy because I can just sit back, take in everything else and then move forward where I need to. We have a very small team on our show, so there’s seven: the host, there’s me the producer, there’s Rob our engineer, we have managers and we have people in the building that help us. But for the most part it’s the three of us. When something goes crazy wrong and everybody floods into the booth and we have six to 10 people shouting things. At the end of the day, it’s my decision, what happens next. And that’s a lot of pressure. And so to trust myself to make the right decision after listening to everybody else, I think that’s been a strength. I’m not pushing my ideas. I’m trying to hear everybody out.

I am not the loudest voice in the room. And I think sometimes that comes in really handy because I can just sit back, take in everything else and then move forward where I need to. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: Well, it’s interesting you talk about the quieter voice in a sense. I know I’ve been in meetings before where there are people who very seldom will speak at all. And then when they do, it’s “Oh! We really need to pay attention!” Because she’s speaking, she’s not just absorbing and obviously listening to everything that’s going on. But being willing to take a stand or advance an argument for someone who’s an introvert can be very challenging. And I think frightening in some ways.

Megan: I think you’re right. That reminded me of a story from college. I was in a creative writing class and I was being taught by this brilliant writer, Mary Gaitskill. And at the end of the class she gave me a B and I was disappointed. I thought I did a good job in the class and she wrote me a note and said, “Well, I deducted some points because you didn’t participate a lot.” And I thought, okay, I guess I should have spoken up more, but that’s just, I listened. I’m not one to offer an opinion like you just said. And then later she, she called me, she emailed me, I don’t remember what it was and she said, I changed your grade to an a because I realized you just have a different learning style and I thought, “Oh, thank you.” I wish people were more open minded about that because it doesn’t come naturally to some people to just raise your hand and offer your opinion.

Ben: Well and I struggle with it in the classroom also, because at RIT we have a good chunk of introverted students there anyway, but there always is that issue. You will have a few students who will always have something to say about something, and it gets to the point you really have to manage that classroom traffic as well. But I’ve stepped away from–and I have to think about whether I really want to keep doing it–but I’ve stepped away from giving a lot of group work type assignments primarily because I–you have people, you have–well, group dynamics in general, the extroverts get the ideas out first and people tend to go along with them because they’re very confident about those ideas, whether they’re good ideas or not. So I’ve really kind of struggled with where does group work fit in because everybody’s having to do it when they graduate, too.

Extroverts get ideas out first and people tend to go along with them because they're very confident about those ideas, whether they're good ideas or not. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: So it’s really tricky type of thing to try to figure out and I am not sure I’ve ended up where I will be on it yet, but at least for now I’ve really reduced the amount of group work that I do.

Megan: Have you gotten any feedback on it?

Ben: Not too much directly from–no, not really too much. I have talked to other professors who–students, one of the problems I ran into with the group work was I also did a peer evaluation, and some of those peer evaluations were just absolutely scathing, especially if they didn’t like someone or they had a strong personality. And I had to be very careful about how I was assigning, like I said, participation points or however you wanted to do it.

Ben: A lot of my teaching is online, so I don’t really have that issue. I was still have them doing group work. But in terms of participation, it’s written participation, it’s online participation and introvert or extrovert should not make a bit of difference in terms of how well they participate on things. So it’s interesting. I’m not sure where it should be. I do need to recognize that when people graduate, yes, that they have to be able to work in companies after work around people and they have to work with people. So it always gets to be a bit challenging.

Ben: So we’ve talked about your strengths. What do you see as your biggest challenges as an introvert? In the workplace or in life or anything?

Megan: I think one of my biggest challenges is the–my hesitant nature to speak up. As you just mentioned, I was in a meeting today and we were having a great discussion, maybe five or six of us and everything everyone else was saying I had thought as well, but I didn’t offer it and I thought to myself, why? Why can’t I just speak up? Why? Because it looks like either I’m not participating, I don’t care. I don’t have any ideas. But again, it goes back to that listening component. So I wish I could speak up more confidently and maybe, maybe it goes to confidence. Maybe confidence is the biggest challenge because I am pretty insecure, [laughing] which is great for Improv. But yeah, everybody has self doubt, but I get in my own way a lot. So that holds me back sometimes.

Ben: Yeah. And I can relate to that, and my biggest thing that I have to learn, and it’s still a challenge, is that more active listening or really the cueing behavior so that I’m communicating the fact that I’m actually paying attention and not just checked out in my own world somewhere. So that part is definitely a bit of a challenge. I think I’ve pretty much–well, it’s really interesting because if it’s a meeting with–if it’s a group of people I know, I have no problem voicing opinions and things like that. But I think if I’m put into a new situation, I’m much more likely to observe and possibly be very late to offering my opinion at all. But then again, I also know I get very frustrated if I think things aren’t going the way that they should be. And I’m much more likely to say something at that point.

Ben: But it’s been an evolution. I can look back, years ago I wouldn’t have said a word, and I had classes, I had doctoral level classes in history where I basically said next to nothing the entire semester because I felt like everyone knew more than I did. So, which may actually really have been the case in that class, and not just an impostor syndrome type thing, but it wasn’t good behavior and it was just very hard getting past myself I think with that.

Megan: Yeah, I understand that.

Ben: So it’s been interesting. So the podcast is typically–is mainly about introverted leadership. So in what ways do you feel like that you are a leader or an influencer?

Megan: Well, I think the show has some credibility in the community and that puts pressure on our team to produce shows that are consistently good, consistently generating conversation, responding to the news cycle, finding powerful stories. It can be very difficult. And I would hope that when they created this position four years ago, that they wanted someone who, that who they felt could lead the show in that direction consistently. So I know they had a lot of great candidates for this position. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity. So I think running the show alone has given me the confidence to know that I can trust my decisions, and I can be on air, I can be behind the scenes, I can engineer anything they throw at me. If I work hard enough, I can do it. And so I think being a leader in that regard, in this building, just showing my peers and if you work hard–and I mean I’m here until three in the morning sometimes–so I don’t recommend that. But if you give your all, you can be someone who’s not as outspoken as maybe someone else who’s on the air all the time, and still have an impact. So I think that’s one sense.

Running the show alone has given me the confidence to know that I can trust my decisions, and I can be on air, I can be behind the scenes, I can engineer anything they throw at me. If I work hard enough, I can do it. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Megan: And I also think teaching Improv classes, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this because we’ve known each other awhile, but I never wanted to do improv. It was scary.

Ben: Yeah. I think you may have mentioned something, but did not go into detail around it.

Megan: Yeah, I wanted to take the writing classes at the Second City in Toronto. And to take Writing Level One, you had to take Improv Level A. So I thought, you know what, I’ll sign up. I’ll power through it. I’ll do the best I can. I was terrified. And I was the only person from out of town. Everybody else knew each other. It was tough. And I walked into the room thinking this was such a mistake, why am I here? But after the first exercise, I loved it. Everybody was silly together. There was no hierarchy of who was more talented than the other people. It was just great. And I fell in love. I did Levels A through E, then I did the Professional program One through Six. And I came back here and we have a great improv scene in Rochester, as you know. I found some people that were like-minded and worked with them for a while, and now I’m teaching in a number of different places. So, I’ve been very fortunate to have many different classes, many different teams that I’ve coached. And I’m also very fortunate that people call me when they need help or they need a coach or they need a teacher. So I think the skills that I’ve applied in the producer area have also found their way into Improv. Work hard, try to be as confident as you can, and trust your instincts.

I think the skills that I've applied in the producer area have also found their way into Improv. Work hard, try to be as confident as you can, and trust your instincts. @mmackmedia Click To Tweet

Ben: Well, and at times I joke–I mean I’m in information security. There are days I feel like our jobs are nothing but improv, because we don’t know what’s going to come in the door, but we still have to be prepared to deal with that. And part of what you talked about, when you gained confidence as you produced a show by yourself and did all the parts of it, that was over time and not something you immediately stepped right in, and Oh this is me. I can do all this. And it’s funny with the Improv and so I’m, I could thank you for being on the show today and I’m looking forward to our next conversation and we’re going to explore improvisation and a little bit more in what that means as an introvert.

Megan: Great!

 

Extras

Megan’s playlist on YouTube, including clips from Thank You Kiss.

Megan Mack rotten kid YouTube playlist


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