Category Archives: Higher Education

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Tara Hughes head shot

Episode 22: Tara Hughes–Unexpected Career Paths

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

Episode 022 Show Notes: Tara Hughes

Introduction

Tara Hughes head shot

Tara Hughes and Ben Woelk talk about their unexpected career paths as introverts with non-technical backgrounds working in Information Technology.

Key concepts

  • Emergency hires that become permanent positions
  • INFJ and managing students
  • Physical exercise and processing the day
  • Imposter Syndrome and panic attacks

Quotable

My path to my career is a little unusual–or at least it’s not the path that I would have envisioned.

I’m not one for more superficial relationships. That’s not where I shine. With counseling, I really wanted to have meaning to whatever I chose to do.

Exercise has probably been the number one thing that has helped me be able to process the day,…physical exertion helps me decompress from the mental exercise of always having to engage with people.

As an introvert, especially as an INFJ, I’m constantly assessing and reassessing. When I come out of a situation, I’m evaluating how did I do, could I have done better? And then that totally informs the next time.

I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how did they let me in and why….that was really intimidating and where the Imposter Syndrome was definitely rearing its ugly head. And I really struggled to understand how in the world I got included in this group.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Tara Hughes. Tara is Interim Manager of Administrative Services at California State University-Channel Islands. I met Tara at the 2019 EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference in Chicago where Tara spoke on, “You’re All a Bunch of Phonies: Impostor Syndrome and Information Security.” The presentation was standing room only, and the attendees described it as very impactful. Given the struggles with self confidence many of us have as introverts, I thought it would be helpful to chat about impostor syndrome on the Hope for the Introvert podcast. You can contact Tara via email tara.hughes@CSCU.edu or through Linkedin, Tara Hughes and Twitter @TinyTara. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversation.

Ben: Hi Tara.

Tara: Hello. Thanks for having me.

Ben: I’m excited that you’re going to be on the podcast. It was great connecting with you in Chicago and I’m really looking forward to our conversation. Before we get into our discussion about Impostor Syndrome, let’s talk a little bit about your career and your background. Can you tell us about what you do? What is your workplace like? Channel Islands sounds like an intriguing place to work because it sounds like it’s on an island. I have no idea if it is or not, but tell us about what you do and how you got there.

Tara: Sure. So,I guess the most important question straightaway is “No, we are not on an island, so I don’t need to take a boat to work. “But we are more representative of the surrounding area. It used to be a California state mental hospital and it was closed–I want to say in the 80s by Reagan, although I’m not 100% sure on that. And then California State University was able to acquire the land. They opened up California State University and they named it Channel Islands because the Channel Islands are just off the coast from where the school is located. And they wanted it to be representative of the surrounding counties since it is more of a commuter school. So my path to my career is a little unusual–or at least it’s not the path that I would have envisioned.

My path to my career is a little unusual--or at least it's not the path that I would have envisioned. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: I am currently the Interim Manager of Administrative Services. I’ve been at Cal State Channel Islands for–it’ll be five years in August. And what I currently do is kind of built off of what I was initially hired to do. So when I was hired back in 2014, our president’s office–their main telephone number to contact them had accidentally been put on all of our marketing materials and our website as the main campus telephone number. And so, after a couple of years of the president’s office fielding calls and kind of just not loving that experience, the president at the time had requested our CIO at the time, Michael Berman, to come up with some sort of way to address that issue, because it was causing things to come straight to the president’s office and not giving other departments the opportunity to address issues before it got escalated all the way to the top.

Tara: So he had kind of this brainchild of having a one-stop shop called the Solutions Center. And so they hired seven student assistants to be campus operators for what was the main line. And then they created a new extension for the president’s office, and then they needed someone to manage these students because no one wanted to do it. And so at the time, my husband has worked here since, Gosh, I don’t even, it’s been probably 13 or 14 years. At the time we had just moved back to Camarillo. He had been commuting for the previous four or five years. I was looking for a job and he said, “My wife would be great.” So they hired me as an emergency temp hire and that turned into a permanent role. Six months after that, they gave me the Commencement hotline because no one wanted to answer that extension.

Tara: Then six months after that, they gave me the IT Help Desk because they were having some trouble with managing the students and felt like they were having trouble multitasking. We took the help desk extension and routed it into the call center. The students that work at the help desk only had to help in person and kind of separating those duties and simplifying them a little bit. Last summer, Business and Finance had acquired it as a sub-unit. So when we were brought over, they had asked that I lead their shared services in a more official capacity and turn the Solutions Center into an official shared services and take over the HR main line. So our students now answered the Human Resources main line as well. And the goal is really to be able to triage all basic Tier One kinds of questions that typically are answered on the website or found somewhere, but that people might have trouble locating, or just feel better to have another human being confirm that information to them. I manage that and I manage the help desk still. So I have about at any given time about 18 student assistants that I employee and we train and they have to know a lot about a lot.

Ben: This is coming in as an emergency hire you said, which is interesting because that’s basically how I got into RIT. I also was brought in because there was a worm at that point in time that was wreaking havoc. I had worked with the Information Security Officer at a previous consulting engagement. He found out I was available and wanted me to come in and help manage the emergency communications around what was happening with the worm. Now that lasted maybe two hours and then it was, “Well, you’re not going to be doing that.” But I was able to move into creating a whole lot of really interesting process stuff and build a security awareness program and all sorts of things like that. But none of that was envisioned when I actually took the position, and it was supposed to be temporary and it has been–a month ago–it’s been 15 years since I’ve been at RIT. So it’s funny how these paths go.

Ben: The other thing I wanted to ask you, because my background has nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m doing for a job now at all. What was your background coming into that position? Your husband said, “Oh, my wife would be great at this” and they agreed with it. What was your background coming in?

Tara: I guess I should start off, my husband and I met my freshman year of college, got married a year after. We got married when I was really young. I was 18. We’ll be celebrating 17 years in September. And so it’s super cool, but not necessarily traditional. We had a family much sooner than we were anticipating. I took a lot of time off from school, and didn’t go back to get my Bachelor’s degree until my youngest went into kindergarten. And my goal was really to get my Bachelor’s before I turned 30. I got my Bachelor’s degree in counseling at a small private liberal arts school. That’s where we had met and his dad and mom both worked there and I graduated my counseling degree at 29. So I made my goal, which was very great.

Tara: But really, I was so drawn to people and relationship building and feeling like there were so many things that I cared about–connecting with people on a really authentic level. I’m not one for more superficial relationships. That’s not where I shine. With counseling, I really wanted to have meaning to whatever I chose to do. And we talked a lot about as our three girls were growing up, that at some point because we got married young and had kids young, that there was going to be this whole life after family to some degree. And what would I do to utilize that time? So working was always going to be in the scope in some way, shape, or form. We just didn’t know what it would look like.

I'm not one for more superficial relationships. That's not where I shine. With counseling, I really wanted to have meaning to whatever I chose to do. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: After I graduated, I worked at an insurance company. My boss was fantastic, but I didn’t love the work because it didn’t feel meaningful ,and it wasn’t that relationship building that I craved. And then right after that we moved back to Camarillo, and it was like, “Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do for work.” And so my husband–just my biggest cheerleader–thought you’re going to manage student assistants, you could totally do this. And what’s been incredible is that so much of the mentorship and coaching very much aligned with my counseling background. So that has been just a wonderful surprise,but not something that I could have pinpointed until I fell into it, if that makes sense.

Ben: I think it makes perfect sense. We were talking before the podcast started about temperament types and we’ll talk about that a little bit more. And what you identified on the temperament type was INFJ, which is counselor, the way that that’s normally interpreted. So that all fits together very well. And I would think in terms of working with students with the stress–I mean what I’m seeing at RIT, the amount of stress that they’re under now–to be able to have someone who is managing them but who is also attuned to the fact that they are people and not just students who are filling a position to get things done. I think it’s probably very, very good for them. I think like you said, you were interested in relationship building and well you have at least 18 students to to have some type of relationships with as well.

Ben: But it’s interesting, I–my background–I went to a large state school in Florida. Ended up being an Anthropology graduate because I honestly couldn’t figure out what I was doing and I had done terribly my first year, and all my initial plans of what I was going to do just didn’t work out. Went to work for my dad for a couple of years. He installed floor covering. I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. Got accepted to a university north of Chicago, and so we moved from Florida to Chicago with a 15-month old not knowing where we were going to be living when we left, knowing that they might have an apartment that was opening up, putting everything into a 14-foot UHaul and caravaning three days up to Chicago. No clear sense of where we were going to stay, but a very clear sense that that’s what we were supposed to be doing.

Ben: And everything kind of worked out and fell into place and different things. But I ended up initially doing what I thought was going to actually be a position in Christian Education. And that ended up changing over to doing a Masters in Church History, which I’m not sure what exactly I thought I was going to be able to do with it when I came out. So I applied very–it’s interesting because you come across people and one of the professors was just so passionate and so engaging that I was really excited about it. I ended up entering a doctoral program at the University of Rochester, which is what brought us to Rochester, thinking we’d be here for four years and that was in 1987 and we’re still here. Did not finish the doctorate but through a series of circumstances and different opportunities, now I’m doing cyber security.

Ben: So definitely not a straight career path at all. And it will be interesting because when we start talking about this Imposter Syndrome piece–been there, absolutely been there–coming in with a liberal arts background, and I’m trying to work in a technical field with technical people and they’re all going to see through me sort of thing. So it’s just really interesting because–I don’t know, maybe for some people it works where it’s a very clear career path. For me, it’s really been what has opened up and do you take the steps forward in it or not. So it’s really interesting to me hearing about your path to get there. We also did the getting married before my wife finished college piece of things, but she was able to finish before our son was born. But still, it was after we were married and it was a bit of a struggle–the finances and where are we going to live, and all of those pieces, and still persevered and got through it.

Ben: But it’s intriguing. So, like we mentioned, you had talked about the INFJ piece and how sometimes it’s closer–well, one of the three times you took it, it came out to ENFJ–and I know how this works for me because I play with the questions just a little bit and see, “Ah, so that changed that. And coming with a counseling background, I’m sure it was even more, “How do I look at this and how can–maybe not how can I manipulate it, but what are the little bits of changes I can do with this?” [Tara laughing] So basically typing as an introvert, but very interested in relationship building, which is not–I don’t think–it’s not a disconnect at all.

Ben: But what has it been like for you in terms of being an introvert? Do you notice a different in terms of how you deal with people? It’s very tough because it’s a spectrum, and I think I’ve become more and more extroverted, and it’s not always very clear for me. It really comes down to how do I recharge and what do I need to do that. But on a given day, if I’m at a conference, nobody is going to think I’m an introvert because I just don’t tend to present that way. So how has that been for you in terms of personality type? You did a counseling degree, so obviously you’ve thought about some of this stuff at some point, but how has that worked in terms of your strategy for how you approach work? What you do in the workplace and in life in general?

Tara: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think growing up everyone would have said I was an extrovert and I always considered myself an extrovert, being a stay-at-home mom for the number of years that I was. I thought that confirmed that I was an extrovert because I would get really lonely being at home all day, and just was so excited when my husband would come home, because now I could have that human interaction with an adult. Not that the kids aren’t humans, but it’s different! And so I really was surprised when I came to work full time to find that I was exhausted at the end of the day. And it wasn’t just physical exhaustion. There was a mental exhaustion of having to be on all the time. I think entering into IT was another compelling part of that because I wasn’t coming into it as an IT expert.

Tara: And so I had to work really hard to be able to speak the language as my colleagues sometimes. And then take that language and put it into a language that your average user could understand, and talking at their level and not at a more technical level. And so that relationship building started to take really different forms. Which was great, but I was so depleted at the end of the day and found myself thinking of myself more as an introverted extrovert, where I still really wanted to be around people, but then really need to find the opportunities to have quiet time and be alone and recharge, whether that was just zoning out watching TV or reading a book or going running.

Tara: I would say exercise has probably been the number one thing that has helped me be able to process the day, and not have to be on, in terms of building those relationships. But just that physical exertion helps me decompress from the mental exercise of always having to engage with people. Conferences I would say is similar. The other thing though is that when I came into working full time at Channel Islands, I was really struggling with panic attacks. I’d never struggled with that before. And there was something about being busy and having to think about other people that really almost eliminated it entirely. Because I didn’t have time to think about myself or what I was worried about, and that was great. But it eventually started to crop up in moments where I had to present at one point. That was very scary for me. And there’s a lot of internal dialogue that goes on if I have to go into a situation where I’m just not sure of myself.

Exercise has probably been the number one thing that has helped me be able to process the day,...physical exertion helps me decompress from the mental exercise of always having to engage with people. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: And I think as an introvert, especially as an INFJ, I’m just constantly assessing and reassessing. So if I go into a situation, when I come out of that, I’m evaluating how did I do, could I have done better? And then that totally informs the next time that I’m going into a situation. And I’ve kind of set up all of these different obstacles in my mind to some degree that I need to clear, even though those were former obstacles in the previous situation that might not necessarily present in this next one, and so you’re just in your head a lot. So that’s where I do like being in a field where I’m forced outside of my head. But then have to constantly bring myself back to a place where I can recharge and be by myself or get some exercise in so that I can get back to it. And so whether that’s work or a conference, I have to kind of coach myself into getting excited to put myself out there. I never regret doing it, but it does take something out of me that I have to eventually find a way to recharge.

As an introvert, especially as an INFJ, I'm constantly assessing and reassessing. When I come out of a situation, I'm evaluating how did I do, could I have done better? And then that totally informs the next time. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Ben: It was interesting, because as I said, we did meet at this EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference and you’re coming in from a different perspective, different background. Many people, especially when they’re on the awareness side or coming in from non-technical backgrounds, there’s always this question for them of whether they belong there or not. And I had some really interesting conversations with a couple of people who said, “I don’t feel like I’m a cyber security professional.” “Well, you just presented at a Security Professionals Conference, so I think you can kind of claim that now,” and realize that yes, we haven’t arrived–we absolutely haven’t arrived–but that’s something you can point to that’s kind of a bit of credibility for yourself or credential in a sense.

Ben: One of the things that you had told me earlier also is that you are part of a leadership program within EDUCAUSE. And I meant to ask you about it before we got started, but could you talk a little bit about that, and you’ve just spent the last week at this Leadership Institute, and I’m really interested in what attracted you to the program, whether you felt ready for the program or not, and what it’s been like for you and what you’ve taken away from it. .

Tara: Okay. Yeah. So I went to the Leading Change Institute, which is affiliated with EDUCAUSE and CLIR. It was an application process and I had to submit a resume and get a letter of recommendation, and absolutely was, I want to say encouraged, but even more than that, kind of hounded by a mentor of mine, to give it a shot. And I thought, no, I don’t, I don’t think I’m at a place where they’ll accept me. So I really talked myself into thinking, well, I’ll apply, but I know I won’t get it, so it’s not much of a risk. And then I got in and thought, “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?” I think our cohort was about 30 people from different institutions across the nation. We actually had someone from Dublin, Ireland and someone from Australia, and I think they both worked in the libraries at their institutions, but it’s a mix of IT professionals and librarians.

Tara: I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how did they let me in and why. A lot of these folks are CEOs and AVPs. And they’re just at a slightly higher level, in title and just place in their career than I am. They have much more experience. And so that was really intimidating and again, you know, as we can talk it about later. But that was where the Imposter Syndrome was definitely rearing its ugly head. And I really struggled to understand how in the world I got included in this group. And so I went into it thinking–well actually when I went to the Security Professionals Conference, I thought, well, I’ll just try my best with my presentation and I’ll try my best at LCI. The worst thing that can happen is that I’ll learn from it if I make a mistake.

I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how did they let me in and why....that was really intimidating and where the Imposter Syndrome was definitely rearing its ugly head. And I really struggled to understand how in the world I… Click To Tweet

Tara: For I would say both instances, I was shocked to discover that I did well and that I had a place there. That wasn’t what I expected going into it. And it was a really lovely surprise coming out of both of those experiences. And really, the Leading Change Institute expects that you understand certain management fundamentals. Really what they’re getting at is more of the finesse of not just managing, but really being a leader and how do you implement change with things that are very difficult to grapple with, especially if you have even things on a national level. How to keep that broad perspective, but still be effective in very specific ways. It was fantastic. DC was wonderful. I hadn’t been to DC since I was in high school, so it was really wonderful to go back with new eyes of appreciation and see things with more experience in my life to be able to really enjoy the history and the remembrance of what so many of those memorials call for us to do.

Tara: I just loved that it was–it was really neat and it was great again to network with people, but again, I had to really coach myself into making the most of that opportunity and putting myself out there. And the worst that could happen is that it doesn’t go the way I want. And then it’s only for a week. And then you’re like, okay.

Ben: It sounds like a really cool thing to be involved in. And honestly, I would have probably some of the same concerns that you do because I’m not an AVP and I’m not an Information Security Officer or a CIO. There were times where I aspired to that, but now I’m don’t know that I want to. ‘m overall enjoying what I’m doing, but I’m also enjoying exploring mentoring and podcasting and things like that. So I’m finding that that’s providing a great deal of satisfaction. I think it’s really cool that you’re involved in that group and I think it’s a great opportunity.

Ben: Tara, thanks for a great conversation. I look forward to our next episode where we will talk more about the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference and why you spoke about Imposter Syndrome, your experience in speaking, and one thing I noticed, the reception for the conversations and the conversations that opened was really great.


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Tree Roots

Security Awareness and the Wind in the Trees

Category:EDUCAUSE,Higher Education,Information Security,Internet Safety,Security Awareness

Tree Roots

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

Security Awareness and the Wind in the Trees

Winds and Stress Wood

In the 1990s, Space Biosphere Ventures constructed Biosphere 2. The biosphere was occupied by a crew of researchers for a two-year period, investigating whether they could be sustained only by food grown within the dome. The researchers grew many types of plants in their quest to develop a self-sustaining environment. One of the surprising results from their efforts was that as many of the trees grew they suffered from a lack of “stress wood.” A tree grows stress wood to strengthen its roots and structure in response to winds. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosphere_2)

Strong Roots

Many writers have drawn analogies between the importance of trees having strong roots (roots which are a form of stress wood), and the need for people to have strong roots to overcome adversity. I thought it would be interesting to look at this stress wood phenomena in the context of security awareness. I’m a security awareness practitioner in higher education. I take the complexities of good cybersecurity practices and recast them for my audience, doing the work of a technical communicator by explaining complex concepts and making them relevant and actionable to my audience.

Application

In many ways, effective security awareness has the same effect on the development of strong roots in people that winds have on trees. Without steady winds, trees don’t develop roots and will topple from strong gusts. Without a steady light wind of security awareness education, our communities won’t withstand the gusts of cyberattacks. Security awareness programs must communicate steadily to their communities what members need to know–not only how to recognize and respond to specific cyberthreats, but good daily security practices.

Effective security awareness has the same effect on the development of strong roots in people that winds have on trees. Without steady winds, trees don't develop roots and will topple from strong gusts. Without a steady light wind of… Click To Tweet

To help our community members develop strong roots we need a programmatic approach to security awareness. It’s not enough to just communicate about specific cyberattacks (gusts) as they occur. We must embed good security practices into our culture. Good security practice must become habitual. Our end users must develop strong roots to face the adversity of cyberattacks.

To help our end users develop strong roots we need a programmatic approach to security awareness. It’s not enough to just communicate about specific cyberattacks (gusts) as they occur. Click To Tweet

We must strive to embed good security practices into our culture. Good security practice must become habitual. Our people must develop strong roots to face the adversity of cyberattacks. Click To Tweet

For several years, I’ve led a preconference workshop to my peers on developing a security awareness plan at the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference, sometimes by myself, other times with a skilled co-presenter. This year, Tara Schaufler, Information Security Awareness and Training Program Manager at Princeton University, and I will be presenting Know Which Way the Wind Blows: Security Awareness that Soars. We’ll help attendees build a strategic plan and determine how to implement that plan so that their communities have that steady wind of security awareness communications.

Wind in the Trees

I think the analogy of wind in the trees works for security awareness education. Growing roots is a good way to articulate the results and culture change we should expect from a good security awareness program. Decorating the tree through a specific security awareness campaign may be eye-catching. It’s great to leverage the damage from gusts of cyberattacks to teach key concepts. However, it’s the steady breeze that will make the biggest difference for our communities.

It's great to leverage the gusts of cyberattacks to teach key concepts. However, it's the steady breeze that will make the biggest difference for our communities. Click To Tweet


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Episode 011: Janine Rowe–Introvert Role Models

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

Episode 011 Show Notes: Janine Rowe

Introduction

Janine Rowe and Ben Woelk discuss the importance of introvert role models, Matilda, Eighth Grade, and a couple of painful public experiences we had as introverts.  

Key concepts

  • Influencing and leading
  • Classroom superlatives
  • Role models

Quotable

I remember so clearly–the day that I found out my Myers Briggs type and how validated I felt, how I felt heard and understood, and I felt that I wasn’t alone. So I think the first recommendation I have for my fellow introverts is if you haven’t experienced the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or the Keirsey Temperament Assessments, is to do a complete assessment and really explore how those aspects of your personality are working together and what unique advantages you might have. It has been such a gift for me, just in embracing rather than working against myself.

(Speaking about Matilda) So talk about introvert power! She’s showing us that even though people may not understand, because you’re not outwardly expressing yourself or telling them what it is that’s important to you or what your goals are. She’s able to just work on herself and really her skill.

How painful it can be if you are called out in a public way for your quietness, for your introversion, or for your shyness, as painful, because you’re at the center of attention, which, if you’re an introvert, you probably don’t like that anyway.

It’s not that we don’t like people and extroverts are the ones that like people, that’s just where our energy comes from, especially as it’s related to that interaction.

One of the things that I’ve had to practice doing,…is I’ve learned to verbalize more. For example, I’m really excited about this event or about this project and just putting it out there for people is not my typical nature to do that, but I found that it’s really important for my colleagues who do tend to be more extroverted. They really rely on that verbal feedback,

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Welcome back Janine. Looking forward to another great conversation today. Let’s talk about the ways that you’ve been an influencer or leader. What are the active steps that you’re taking in that? Is it something that you’ve recognized that you want to be or something that’s been thrust upon you? How would you describe your role or pursuit or non pursuit of being an influencer or a leader?

Janine: Yeah, certainly that’s something I’ve been working on over the past recent years. I’m currently finishing up a term as vice president of the New York State Career Development Association, which is our state affiliate to the national association, and I’m president for these upcoming two years. So that’s a big test for me. But I have really good support in my most immediate past president. I’ve also found out–I realized that I’ve been seeking out some leadership opportunities within professional associations that are by their nature, small committees that may work really deeply and significantly on a specific issue. A lot of people gave me advice, “Well, just run for the board,” or you know, “Just go up for a position,” and I hope to do that someday. But in the meantime, I’ve been a part of a counselor education academy and a leadership academy, which are both small groups that meet regularly over the course of two years to advance a specific advocacy project within the association.

Janine: That’s really been perfect for me because it’s a small group of about 10 people. And we can have an audience to give our findings to the board. Another thing that’s been helpful is seeking out leadership in spaces where there’s a lot of other introverts in the group. So within something like a national career development association, a lot of us are introverts and counselors there. So I feel that it’s really–it’s home–and there people don’t mind if you sit out of sessions and things like that because I think they understand how overwhelming the convention can be.

Ben: What recommendations do you have for introverts who want to become influencers or leaders?

Janine: When I think of this question, I think–I remember so clearly–the day that I found out my Myers Briggs type and how validated I felt, how I felt heard and understood, and I felt that I wasn’t alone. So I think the first recommendation I have for my fellow introverts is if you haven’t experienced the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or the Keirsey Temperament Assessments, is to do a complete assessment and really explore how those aspects of your personality are working together and what unique advantages you might have. It has been such a gift for me, just in embracing rather than working against myself. Other than that, I think there has been some element of “fake it ’til you make it” and just trying different things out in terms of speaking up in meetings or going out to do a presentation or professional development training, because for me, the more I have put myself out of my comfort zone, the more I do–the more I can do in the future. So even though I’m not always 100 percent comfortable in those settings, it does help me to develop those skills and be more comfortable now.

A recommendation I have for my fellow introverts is if you haven't experienced the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or the Keirsey Temperament Assessments, is to do a complete assessment and really explore how those aspects of your… Click To Tweet

Ben: Stretching yourself or kind of pushing yourself beyond what you’re comfortable with has been a recurring theme in the conversations that I’ve had in previous podcasts as well. So I think for our listeners, I would really embrace that, because we don’t change unless we do something different. And I’ve looked at every step I’ve taken on my leadership journey and many, many times I’ve taken a big gulp and then stepped forward into it, worried or afraid of what the results might be. But overall it’s worked well for me. So I think that’s a really interesting point as well.

We don't change unless we do something different. And I've looked at every step I've taken on my leadership journey and many, many times I've taken a big gulp and then stepped forward into it, worried or afraid of what the results… Click To Tweet

Ben: One of the things that Janine and I have talked about is the idea of appropriate role models for introverts. And I think this is really important in our Western society, given that the ideal is an extrovert leader and that’s who many of the business schools train people to be. And even though we’re probably close to a 50/50 split in the population between extroverts and introverts, I think most of the studies have shown it’s extroverts who tend to have the higher positions in companies, even though there doesn’t seem to be any real evidence that they’re going to be any more effective doing this. So what do you think about this idea of introvert role models. And the other way you phrased it was, classroom superlatives?

Janine: Definitely. I think we really need to be on the lookout for individuals who are influential or powerful or who we just admire for the quality of their work who are introverts. Because I do think that sometimes extroverts can be better at promoting themselves and letting others know all of what they’re capable of and all of their accomplishments. A nd I’ve also noticed that introverts–especially maybe in TV or movies–they can be associated as lacking in social skills or that the introversion is a negative aspect of their personality and something that they need to work through. And so I think we should pay attention to those examples where the introversion is a kind of a key aspect of an individual’s success.

Ben: I think given our society that we are often presented with introversion being a handicap or a handicap towards leadership of some kind. And as I’ve learned more about my temperament type (which is INTJ), I found that I learned more about what I can do as an introvert. And I’m not really seeing it as a detriment at this point at all. It’s really more, these are the strengths I bring as an introvert. And that informs my approach to leadership, because I can build on the strengths and stay–not stay away completely–but try to avoid some of the things that are not going to work well for me. Well–and I think this works for all of us–we each kind of learn our own path and what works for us and what things don’t work as well. Now you had mentioned role models and I’m struggling a little bit with this as well, trying to figure out who are our introvert role models, because much of what we do see on TV or in media in general does seem to be people who have very, very poor social skills. Do you have any thoughts about who would serve as a role model? Maybe if not real life people at this point, what about fictional characters?

Janine: The first thing that comes into my mind would be Matilda in the Roald Dahl book and the movie. Matilda definitely is an introvert role model. I actually identify a lot with her because as a young child, she spent a great deal of time on her own and she loved reading, and she was because of this, really misunderstood by her family, and they just saw that as a negative trait and she was really an outcast from her own immediate family unit. And another way we know she’s an introvert is because she was so choosy and particular with who she would become close friends with. And that was primarily her teacher. And she had one friend whose name was Lavender. And throughout the book, her introversion is really her power, because she’s discovering that through really intense conversation and through practice.

Janine: And she always practiced alone, which I think is a really, to me, a very important aspect of introversion is we don’t like to practice new skills in front of other people. Neither did she. So she learned that through concentration she was able to manipulate objects in the environment just with her eyes. And so she gets really good at doing this and she becomes the hero, because she uses this power to exact some revenge on the villain in the story, which is her horrible, awful principal at the school. So talk about introvert power! She’s showing us that even though people may not understand, because you’re not outwardly expressing yourself or telling them what it is that’s important to you or what your goals are. She’s able to just work on it herself and really her skill. It’s a very lovely book and movie, so I recommend it.

Ben: Yeah. it sounds like a really good role model for an introvert. It’s trying to think in terms of introverts in say, in real life, I don’t really like to term and who the better known introverts are in initially. Of course I was drawing a total blank with that, so I Googled it and pulled up a list. So for our listeners, some of the well-known introverts in history, (those are the ones that have been regarded as most successful) include Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Sir Isaac Newton, (who I’m sure did not take a Meyer Briggs), Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and the list goes on and on. And Abraham Lincoln, JK Rowling, Warren Buffet, Gandhi, you know, very, very well known names. So we do have people that we can look at as role models who have been very successful as introverts and of course they work in different ways than the extroverts that we would see in the world around us.

Ben: Janine, what else could you share that would be helpful to our listeners?

Janine: I had the most intense and just unexpected reaction to a movie which is out now. And I recommend that listeners go and check it out because I think us introverts will find a lot to identify with. The movie’s called Eighth Grade, and in it, there’s a main character who is an eighth grader–a young woman and she really–not just as an introvert–she really suffers with social anxiety, and there’s a scene early on when they’re handing out Classroom Superlatives for the Yearbook. And so these are things like Most Likely to Succeed or Best Eyes that her classmates are winning and they’re so happy to be doing so. And then she wins for Most Quiet. So she’s recognized as the most quiet person in her school and she’s just mortified by this. And I couldn’t believe it because when I was in high school, I was voted Most Likely to Come to School and Leave Without Talking to Anyone.

Janine: And–and I was so embarrassed to receive that so-called recognition award. It was painful to be called out publicly for being quiet, when I did not consider that to be a detriment or a flaw at all. That was just where I was most comfortable. And it was true that sometimes I would go into a room and leave and not talk to anyone, so I was so pleased to see validation of that experience, even though it was fictional, to show how painful it can be if you are called out in a public way for your quietness, for your introversion, or for your shyness, as painful, because you’re at the center of attention, which, if you’re an introvert, you probably don’t like that anyway. And also because it’s really a mischaracterization of our experience. In the movie she is shy, but she has definitely a social appetite and a want to connect with friends.

How painful it can be if you are called out in a public way for your quietness, for your introversion, or for your shyness, as painful, because you're at the center of attention, which, if you're an introvert, you probably don't like… Click To Tweet

Ben: Most of our listeners right now are saying, “What’s the problem with being quiet again?” But I know high school, junior high and high school, it’s like everything that could possibly be different or unique is just called out at some point. It’s like if you don’t fit the mold of whatever that ideal is, somebody draws attention to it.

Janine: Exactly.

Ben: So one thing that’s interesting, you talked about introverts not wanting to be the center of attention. I know for me personally that there have been a couple of times where I’ve received public recognition for things unexpectedly and my mind has just gone blank at the time, because I think there’s such cognitive dissonance that I’m just not prepared to deal with it. And I’ve mutely gone up and accepted whatever that recognition or award is, but I have not had a clue as far as what should I say, should I say anything? So it’s–it’s interesting. But that whole being unexpectedly put on the spot, at times I found that, I don’t know if I could say I’ve found it terrifying, but it’s definitely been really uncomfortable.

Janine: It’s definitely an uncomfortable experience. And then if you’re anything like me, which I think you are, you spend a lot of the remainder of the day and the next day thinking about how you could have handled that differently.

Ben: Now, I’m going to think about the one time however many years ago and why, why couldn’t I have been more socially apt and been able to handle that better?

Janine: What was the situation?

Ben: That situation was–actually, it was college and I was part of a band service fraternity called Kappa Kappa Psi, and we had a sister organization called Tau Beta Sigma. The chapter was Beta Xi, and they had an award each year for their Beta Xi Guy, who had been helpful to them through the year for their organization. And I was at a picnic where they were giving out these recognition awards and they announced my name for it, and I just sat there. I didn’t have anything to say. I had no response and I hope they understood. I was appreciative of being recognized for the–for that award, but I just wasn’t prepared to say a thing. Now, if I’m going into something and I have some idea, hey, you’re going to be recognized for something or attention is going to be placed on you for some reason, it’s a little bit different because I can get ready for it psychologically, but otherwise no, I just totally draw a blank with it.

Janine: I can understand that. Yeah. Being prepared with a heads up is definitely a key and I’m quite sure I could not have conjured up a different response than you did in that situation.

Ben: No. What ended up–and this is probably going to be no surprise to our introverted listeners. When Janine and I get together we can talk about pretty much anything because we’re comfortable with each other, because over time we’ve been able to build that relationship. So it is interesting that the public view of what an introvert is like doesn’t necessarily meet that inward reality at all.

Janine: Absolutely. I think that’s key. And we both do have a social appetite, so we’re introverts who are quite motivated by forming relationships as well. And I want more people to understand that about introverts. It’s not that we don’t like people and extroverts are the ones that like people, that’s just where our energy comes from, especially as it’s related to that interaction.

It's not that introverts don't like people and extroverts are the ones that like people, that's just where our energy comes from, especially as it's related to that interaction. @janinemrowe Click To Tweet

Ben: Any additional thoughts that you think would be helpful to our listeners?

Janine: I have realized early on in my career as a counselor that I sometimes come off as aloof or uninterested in my colleagues, and I really don’t want that because that’s not true. It may just be I’m oriented not to make small talk and those types of things. And so that was creating kind of a misunderstanding or mischaracterization of how I was really feeling. So one of the things that I’ve had to practice doing that may help our listeners is I’ve learned to verbalize more. For example, “I’m really excited about this event or about this project”, and just putting it out there for people is not my typical nature to do that, but I found that it’s really important for my colleagues who do tend to be more extroverted. They really rely on that verbal feedback from their colleagues so I try to provide that for them.

Ben: I think that’s a great way to wrap up the program. Thank you, Janine, for agreeing to be on the podcast with me and we look forward to you joining us a guest again in the future.

Janine: Thank you. I enjoyed talking with you.

Extras

STC Lightning Talks from STC Rochester on Vimeo.


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Kirk St Amant headshot

Episode 008: Kirk St Amant–Reflective Listener and Leader

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

Episode 008 Show Notes: Kirk St. Amant

Introduction

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

Key concepts

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

Quotable

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

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

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

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirk: Yes, it’s essential. [laughing]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirk: I hope that made sense.

Ben: No, I think it does.

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

Kirk: Gotcha.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben: Thank you. I appreciate that.


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Kirk St Amant headshot

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

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

Episode Show Notes 007: Kirk St. Amant

Introduction

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

Key concepts

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

Quotable

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

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

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

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben: Absolutely! Please do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben: Thanks Kurt for an insightful interview.

Extras

The iPhone lecture

The iPhone lecture


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