Category Archives: introversion

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Megan Mack Headshot

Episode 28: Megan Mack–Introverts and Improvisation

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

Episode 028 Show Notes: Megan Mack

Introduction

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

Megan Mack Improvisation facilitator

Key concepts

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

Quotable

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

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

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

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

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

Megan: Right! Everybody’s looking at you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan: How did that go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan:  You’re a problem solver, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan: I remember that. {laughing].

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

Megan: I think so [laughing].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Extras


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Megan Mack Headshot

Episode 027: Megan Mack–Empathy and Meaningful Discourse

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

Episode 027 Show Notes: Megan Mack

Introduction

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

Megan Mack headshot

Key concepts

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

Quotable

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

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

Ben: Hi Megan.

Megan: Hi. Thanks for having me, Ben.

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

Megan: Likewise. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben: So for whatever reason…

Megan: You’re finding all of them apparently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben: No, no, no. I think you’re…

Megan: We are on a news station.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan: Have you gotten any feedback on it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan: Yeah, I understand that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan: Great!

 

Extras

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

Megan Mack rotten kid YouTube playlist


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Gabby Pascuzzi headshot

Episode 024: Gabby Pascuzzi–Vulnerability and Leaning In

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

Episode 024 Show Notes: Gabby Pascuzzi

Introduction

Gabby Pascuzzi and Ben Woelk talk about the importance of vulnerability and openness in the workplace, empathy, and leaning into weakness.

Gabby Pascuzzi headshot

Key concepts

  • Remote work can be challenging because so much of communication is non verbal.
  • Vulnerability and openness can be a strength
  • When you lean into a perceived weakness you may find it’s really a strength
  • Leaning into a weakness can help you improve that area
  • Empathy is a key leadership trait
  • No one started off as an expert and you do yourself a disservice if you write yourself off and say, “I can’t do that.”

Quotable

On remote work–The nuances and so much of communication is nonverbal, that you really have to work hard to make sure that you’re not misconstruing something that somebody said…making sure that your tone is appropriate and thoughtful. @gabbypascuzzi

On authenticity–at the end of the day, even if we’re writing alone, we still need our teammates. And one way to build a stronger team is to let them see who you are. @gabbypascuzzi

Being comfortable with my emotions is tied to one of my biggest strengths, which is being vulnerable and being authentic and just being really present, bringing my whole self to work. @gabbypascuzzi

Empathy helps you put yourself in other people’s shoes so that you are able to do more of this servant leadership style where you’re serving the people under you. @GabbyPascuzzi

Leaning into weaknesses, meaning things that you are not very naturally skilled at. We get so obsessed with “What is your strength?” @GabbyPascuzzi

Nobody started out as an expert and you really do yourself a disservice if you write yourself off, and say, “Nope, I can’t do that. That’s a weakness,” because you don’t know if you may have more skill then you thought or you’re able to improve. @GabbyPascuzzi

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Gabby Pascuzzi. Gabby is a technical writer at Tenable, a cybersecurity company. She also competed on the 37th season of Survivor: David versus Goliath. I met Gabby at the 2019 STC Summit Conference in Denver where Gabby was our keynote speaker for our Honors event. Gabby shared her experience as a contestant on Survivor: David versus Goliath. Her presentation was well received and one of the hits of the conference. You can follow Gabby on Twitter @GabbyPascuzzi. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversation.

Ben: Hi Gabby!

Gabby: Hi Ben.

Ben: I’m excited that you’ve agreed to join us today. I’m very much looking forward to chatting with you. I’m sure we will chat about Survivor, but I’d like to talk a little bit about your career in general, and we’re going to talk about weaknesses and strengths and how those should maybe be handled in life and in the workplace. So you work at Tenable, I’m in Cybersecurity, so I’m actually familiar with Tenable, but can you tell us a little bit about what you do for them and what your workplace is like?

Gabby: Yeah, so I have been a technical writer at Tenable for a year and a half now. And I write mostly user documentation, our user guides for a couple of different products. One is Nessus, which is a vulnerability scanner. Another is Tenable IO, which is our platform. And yeah, a lot of user guide content which is pretty, pretty fast. We are always coming out with new features. So we do work in an agile environment.

Gabby: I have only been a technical writer for–this is my fourth year, so this is pretty early in my career and I’ve found that it’s been really challenging, but really interesting. And another challenge that has come with working for Tenable, which is one of the things I love as well, is it’s largely a remote company. So a lot of the employees are remote. The headquarters is in Maryland, but I live in Virginia and we do a lot of our coordinating and communicating through Slack and through Zoom calls, and we have people not only in this area, but also spread across the country and sometimes in different countries. We have some people in Ireland, some people out of India, so it’s a very global company, which makes for an interesting workplace at times. But yeah, very fast moving and I’m excited to be working for them.

Ben: What led you into technical writing as a career?

Gabby: I had no idea that technical writing existed until right before I graduated from college. I went to school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and I majored in Linguistics, and then I added a second major, which was in the English Department called Professional Writing, which is–I always laugh because what’s the opposite of that? Like unprofessional writing? But, they had a few technical writing classes and I had always been pretty technically minded. I always did well in science and I had taken an introductory computer science course at CMU, which is a school that’s kind of known for that.

Gabby: I found that the technical writing classes really merged my skills in writing, which I had always been interested in English and writing, but I had never been particularly creative. I was always more on the technical side. So that’s when I discovered that technical writing existed and allowed me to really combine those two skills.

Ben: Yeah, it’s interesting. I took linguistics classes in college also, though I actually did an anthropology undergraduate, which I’m certainly not doing that now, but I found the linguistic stuff absolutely fascinating–just how much it could inform a culture and tell you about a culture, but also in some ways determine how a culture acted in some ways. So it was always a really, really interesting field. I didn’t go there, but it’s definitely an interesting field. So do you work as part of a team at Tenable? How often do you see each other?

Gabby: Yeah, so I am part of our technical writing team and there are 10 of us and we have a manager that’s just our manager for the technical writers, but each one of us focuses on a different product. And so then we’re also integrated onto those development teams. I’m pretty well connected to the developers for the products I write about as well as the product managers. And as you know, with all of us tech writers we’re always talking to everybody. So you get to know a lot of people, even though I’m not seeing them all face to face all the time, and my team gets together at least once a quarter, which I feel like is important for us to have that bonding time and remember that each other are people, not just our little screens. We Zoom call a lot so we make sure to do video calls. So we do see each other face to face, which I feel like is important in a remote context, because you don’t want to just always be communicating via Slack message or email and then you really–you don’t even know what the other person looks like or sounds like and you lose some of that personal touch.

Ben: Yeah. It’s interesting because at the Summit conference where I met you there was one woman I had been mentoring for the last three years, and we’d never seen each other face to face. We’d seen each other on our screens through Slack calls or whatever. But it was so funny. It’s, “Oh, you’re really tall,” and all that sort of thing, which you obviously can’t tell that when you’re just talking virtually, but I agree. I think that face-to-face connection makes such a dramatic difference in terms of–well you catch nuances that you wouldn’t catch otherwise and just getting to know each other a little bit better.

Gabby: Yeah, definitely. I mean, working for a remote company definitely has its pros and cons and a pro is that you really have awesome team members that are not limited by geographic location. Right. We have some brilliant people that they happen to live a state over so they can’t come into headquarters, so it’s great in that way. But yeah, there are drawbacks, which is that you don’t have those face to face. I agree with what you said, the nuances and so much of communication is nonverbal, that you really have to work hard to make sure that you’re not misconstruing something that somebody said as well as you have to make sure your intentions are clear when you’re just chatting over Slack, making sure that your tone is appropriate and thoughtful. And that is, that’s relevant to us as writers, you know, because we care about our tone, but definitely something to keep in mind.

On remote work--The nuances and so much of communication is nonverbal, that you really have to work hard to make sure that you're not misconstruing something that somebody said. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, definitely. So I have a question. For our listeners, one of the things that we do, is our guests fill out a questionnaire and they describe themselves in the questionnaire. And Gabby described herself as an awkward extrovert, which is interesting. And I was curious, what do you mean by that and how does that play out?

Gabby: Yeah. So when you asked me to be a part of your podcast, the first thing I said to you was, “You know, I’m not really an introvert. I am actually an extrovert”, but I can relate to introverts because I can be awkward and I can be shy at times. And not to call introverts awkward and shy [laughing], but I feel like a lot of introverts might describe themselves that way. So to me it means that I am extroverted. I really get my energy from being around people, talking to people. That’s how I recharge. I’m very outgoing, but there are definitely times where I find it hard to reach out, especially if it’s someone that I don’t know very well. And so there’s definitely a little bit of a hump for me to get to that extroverted part of myself.

Gabby: Being an awkward extrovert is also sometimes challenging in my remote workplace because, for all of us as technical writers, we have to initiate a lot of conversations because we need to ask somebody for information. We need to ask for clarity; we need to ask for reviews. So it’s hard because a lot of technical writers are introverted or are a little awkward, when really we need to be very bold and not shy. And that can be really hard for a lot of us. It’s hard for me and it’s something that I’ve definitely had to work at, just being confident that, okay, I’ve got to get an answer so I’ve got to reach out and you really can’t be too shy about it.

Ben: Okay, awesome. So what do you see as your main weaknesses and strengths?

Gabby: I think my weaknesses and strengths are very linked and I feel like that’s true for a lot of us. So when I think about my weaknesses, I think about things that affect me. Sometimes I can be a little disorganized. Sometimes I have a hundred ideas at once. I like to multitask. And that can be challenging. Things that other people have said are weaknesses of mine, and this actually for me, it came out in the context of Survivor, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about later, is that I am a person that definitely wears her emotions on her sleeve. [laughing] So I think that some people might view that as a weakness because you’re in a workplace, you’re in a professional place, and it’s not to say I’m having emotional breakdowns in the middle of the workday, but I’m pretty open with my emotions, and some people might take issue with that, and I think it ties in perfectly to what is my strength.

Gabby: And I actually feel that being comfortable with my emotions is tied to one of my biggest strengths, which is being vulnerable and being authentic and just being really present, bringing my whole self to work. I don’t feel like I bring a fake version of myself to work. And, what that means to me is that I’m able to show up and connect with my peers, my coworkers, and not just be a robot behind a screen. Especially, like I said, especially if we’re just talking over Slack, somebody that’s just asking for this, asking for that, let’s get the job done with no sense of personability. Is personability a word? [laughing].

Being comfortable with my emotions is tied to one of my biggest strengths, which is being vulnerable and being authentic and just being really present, bringing my whole self to work. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: Sure. We’ll go with it.

Gabby: The thing is, as writers and as linguists, we can just make up words. But yeah, if you’re not bringing your authentic self to work, I feel like you’re missing out on an opportunity to build those connections with your peers.

Gabby: And at the end of the day, even if we’re writing alone, we still need our teammates. And one way to build a stronger team is to let them see who you are. And that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t still be boundaries and that there aren’t things that are appropriate and not appropriate to talk about or to show at work. But when you’re able to be–have a little fun and tell people when you are really excited about something or tell your teammates, “I’m really frustrated about this, can I vent to you for a second?” And maybe you’ll find out that they’ve been experiencing the same issues too. And what can you guys do about it? Maybe you can trouble–you can brainstorm how to fix this issue. Maybe it’s a culture issue that you guys are going to bring up in your next team meeting, but that really isn’t possible unless you are open and show up every day. So that was a long answer to your question.

On authenticity--at the end of the day, even if we're writing alone, we still need our teammates. And one way to build a stronger team is to let them see who you are. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: No, but it’s very interesting issue because I think for most of us in the workplace, the idea is that–maybe the idea is that you squashed down your emotions and you do your work and then you some ways you are not yourself in the workplace. There was–actually part of the Next Big Idea Club, which is a book club, which I don’t read nearly as many of them as I should, but one of their recent offerings is called No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work. And that’s by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy‎. And that one gets very much into really being, I think completely at the workplace and recognizing that you need to be able to share your emotions. And I think that’s in some ways it’s a corrective, I think to a lot of the business type writing that’s been out there in terms of what are we supposed to be like in the workplace. We’re supposed to be very just not emotional or just always focusing on work. So I think it’s a really interesting discussion and an interesting thing for a lot of people.

Gabby: Yeah, definitely. That book sounds really interesting. I am going to have to take note of that and read that. It’s something that I’ve thought a lot about. Can we have emotions at work that are appropriate and be more authentic? Rather than squashing them down because everybody knows what happens when you squash down emotions. They are going to bubble up. And I don’t think people at your workplace would like that very much either, if suddenly there was an explosion of emotions that you had been letting pent up, because you weren’t comfortable talking through anything that came up. And I think with emotions and with emotional intelligence also comes empathy. And empathy is very important for interpersonal skills in the workplace, especially if we’re talking about leadership skills. Empathy is one that I feel you must have as a leader; it helps you understand if you have people below you, it helps you relate to them. It helps you put yourself in other people’s shoes so that you are able to do more of this servant leadership style where you’re serving the people under you.

Can we have emotions at work that are appropriate and be more authentic? Because everybody knows what happens when you squash down emotions. They are going to bubble up. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Empathy is very important for interpersonal skills in the workplace, especially if we're talking about leadership skills. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Empathy helps you put yourself in other people's shoes so that you are able to do more of this servant leadership style where you're serving the people under you. @GabbyPascuzzi Click To Tweet

Gabby: And I know for me, I’m not in a real leadership position in my team. I’m a technical writer. I’m on the same level as a lot of my peers. But for example, in a group discussion, so once every two weeks we have a group meeting where we revisit our style guide and we make decisions on outstanding items where we haven’t come up with a standard for our style, or we revisit past decisions if they’re not working for us. And it’s definitely a group conversation. And I think when you are empathetic, for example, in that situation, you’re able to understand everybody’s viewpoints and listen to each person fairly and not be biased and not take things personally if somebody’s opinion doesn’t agree with yours. So in that kind of situation, empathy really is key.

Ben: And I think that gets back to our comments early on about nonverbal communication. And I’ve just seen too many times somebody gets an email and they read it–I’m assuming they misread it in terms of the emotion or the intent that was behind it. But having that ability to see each other face to face and catch those nuances is critical as well.

Gabby: Definitely. Yeah. So many times things can get misconstrued. And I think if we all just try to remember that most people are coming from a good place and things usually are not personal in the workplace, then hopefully we can avoid some of that. And that also comes with lowering your guard a little bit and not being so on defense. Right? If you’re always playing defense, then you’re possibly going to take things as a personal attack, when really it may have just been somebody posing an alternative and it’s nothing personal against you. And the more empathetic you are able to be, the more open minded and emotionally intelligent that you are, the easier it will be for you to listen to feedback like that and not take it super personally.

The more empathetic, the more open minded and emotionally intelligent that you are, the easier it will be for you to listen to feedback and not take it super personally. @GabbyPascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, and I think it’s hard. For instance, if I have an idea of doing something in a different way and I’m very, very invested in it and I’m very, very passionate about it, but then it’s not received well, it’s very hard for that not to feel like there’s a personal element there. Mainly because I’ve probably invested too personally in whatever the idea was.

Gabby: I’m definitely guilty of that. Yeah. I’ve seen it go that direction as well. And it’s really hard sometimes to not feel attached to your work because we do care about it so much. And you know that that happens to me even with things as simple as I send things for a peer review and they didn’t like the word I chose. And I’m like, “What do you mean? I really thought about that word.” Because you really have to remind yourself sometimes it’s not personal. If you’re on a team, you’re working together to create the best outcome and there are always going to be differences of opinion.

Ben: Yeah. It’s funny because you’re gonna get that. But that was, what do they, what are they saying about me if they don’t like my word, you know? Yeah. It’s funny. Don’t they appreciate me?

Gabby: Yeah, definitely.

Ben: Gabby, one thing that you had mentioned to me before we started recording today, was this idea of leaning into weakness. And when we had talked about leaning in, you said it wasn’t necessarily in the sense of the book for women in the workplace called Leaning In. Can you expand on that a little bit? What do you mean by leaning in and especially in the leaning into your weaknesses?

Gabby: Yeah, I am very big on this idea of leaning into either what you perceive to be your own weaknesses or what others perceive to be your weaknesses. When I think about the idea of leaning into your weaknesses, I see two halves to this. One is the idea that what people may see as a weakness is not really a weakness. So by leaning into it, you’re really highlighting a strength of yours. So for example, like I mentioned before, as a person myself who is very in tune with her emotions, some people may see that as a weakness. I see it as a strength. So if I know that I can’t really help but be emotional, let me think about how I can use that as a positive influence in the workplace.

Leaning in is the idea that what people may see as a weakness is not really a weakness. So by leaning into it, you're really highlighting a strength of yours. @GabbyPascuzzi Click To Tweet

Gabby: So can I use it to connect with a coworker that is having a bad day? And I’m able to empathize with them and we’re able to talk and, and I help then refocus is, is it possible for me to use my emotions, my emotional intelligence to have a tough conversation with a manager about a culture problem that I see that needs to be addressed that I noticed because I’m in tune with my emotions. So I think when you lean into something that is supposedly a weakness, it actually might highlight it as a strength.

Gabby: The other half of it is leaning into weaknesses, meaning things that you are not very naturally skilled at. So I really feel like sometimes we get so obsessed with “What is your strength?,” “What are your strengths, what are your strengths? “And that’s great. We should also be doing jobs that highlight our strengths. However, you don’t want to become so scared of leaving your comfort zone that you never try anything new. For example, if I am scared of public speaking and I consider that a weakness of mine, what if you really tried to lean into that and signed up for a toastmasters club or went to a public speaking class or volunteered to lead the next meeting that your team was having? If you really try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do things that make you uncomfortable, I wonder if you might discover that it’s not as big of a weakness as you may have thought.

Click To Tweet

If you really try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do things that make you uncomfortable, I wonder if you might discover that it's not as big of a weakness as you may have thought. @GabbyPascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: Well, I think you also have the perception when looking at someone who’s been speaking for a while, that they’ve always been a good speaker. And I think realizing that it is a process. And it’s a learning process and that goes from everything from initial podcasts as opposed to 20 episodes in, to being willing to speak in front of a team meeting to maybe addressing several hundred people like you did at the STC Honors Event. I think what happens is I think you get more comfortable with it the more often that you do it in that example and I think the leaning into that weakness or knowing it’s something that you want to maybe turn into a strength. I think makes a lot of sense.

Gabby: Yeah, I definitely agree. We really have to remember that not everybody–actually, nobody started out as an expert and you really are just doing yourself a disservice if you write yourself off, and say, “Nope, I can’t do that. That’s a weakness. I don’t do that. I’ve never done that. And I never will do that,” because you don’t know if you may have more of a skill there then you thought or just that you’re able to improve from where you were at one point.

Click To Tweet

Ben: Well that’s awesome. I think there’s some very good things here. And Gabby, I’d like to thank you for being on the podcast and I’m looking forward to our next time together and we will, I promise our listeners, we will talk about Survivor.

Extras

Survivor Profile

Gabby Pascuzzi on Survivor


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Tara Hughes head shot

Episode 023: Tara Hughes–Impostor Syndrome

Category:EDUCAUSE,introversion,Introverted Leadership,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 023 Show Notes: Tara Hughes

Introduction

Tara Hughes head shot

Tara Hughes and Ben Woelk talk about impostor syndrome. and her presentation at the 2019 EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference.

Key concepts

  • A presentation can be a self improvement project
  • Being vulnerable as a presenter can help the audience connect with you
  • Even experts can struggle with impostor syndrome
  • When there’s not a model and you’re doing research and going with your gut, you may be prone to Impostor Syndrome
  • Mentors can help assure you that you’re not an impostor.

Quotable

That willingness to be authentic and vulnerable is such a key part of having people walk along the journey with you and being willing to talk, being willing to hear about your journey. @benwoelk

Impostor Syndrome-for those of us who are so committed and care so deeply about the work that we do, that has I think an extra level of importance to be seen as legitimate. @TinyTara

If you suffer from impostor syndrome, you’re likely not going to be talking about it because you’re afraid that people will find out that you’re an impostor. @TinyTara

We think an expert has no gap in knowledge or experience. And there’s no way that you could know possibly know all of the things there are to know in information security because it’s rapidly changing. @TinyTara

Even if we don’t think we’re an expert, we may be the best person to stand in that gap and fill that role for a while. @benwoelk

Reframing your thoughts and your perspective is crucial to recognizing Impostor Syndrome. @TnyTara

Having diverse teams and diverse skills should help us feel like we belong and not feel like an impostor. @TinyTara

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. Welcome back. It’s great to have you back on the podcast.

Tara:  I’m looking forward to chatting about the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. I was very excited about the presentation, because I was really interested to see what the population would be in the room and what the reaction would be, so let’s talk about that a little bit. And it was very funny, because I could tell you did not come across as nervous as presenting, but you did mention that how you had hoped it would not be a large turnout, and the room was packed and standing room only. So let’s talk a little bit about what led you to the conference, why you chose that topic. I have my audience view of what I saw going on with it, but it’s always interesting because your view as a presenter is very different in many ways. So let’s talk a little bit about this whole Impostor Syndrome issue.

Tara:  Yeah. So the same mentor who encouraged me to apply to LCI, encouraged me to apply to present at Security Professionals and the deadline had come and gone. And for other extenuating circumstances, I just didn’t get around to submitting anything. And he circled back with me and said, “Why didn’t you submit something?” And so I said, “It’s too late. It’s okay. Maybe next year we’ll submit.” He contacted Valerie [Vogel] and Valerie said, “No, she can submit still. I’ll give her a week.” And so I said, “What am I going to present on? I don’t work in information security. I’m more tangentially related because I run our IT Help Desk, but I’m not an information security expert by any means.” And he said, “You should talk about that. Talk about how you’re not sure that you fit in here and why should you present.” Because I said, “Who would want to come listen to me talk at a security conference? I don’t work in security.” So he had said, “You know, you should really look into impostor syndrome and you should talk about that. I think that that would be great and we would love to have some more diverse topics that aren’t just technically focused.”

Tara: And so the more that I looked into it, and I know my husband kind of got involved and he was like, “This is perfect. This is absolutely something that you can speak to.” And sure enough, I think the more that I looked into it, the more it felt like a personal improvement project just as much as a presentation. And again, when my presentation was accepted, because I had talked myself into thinking that I will submit it, because it won’t get accepted. And so it’s not a big risk. And then I got accepted and I thought, “Oh shoot! Now I’ve got to–now I’ve actually got to do it.” But it really did become a personal improvement project, just as much for my own well-being as it was for other people.

Tara: The big thing that I kept in mind throughout was that really going back to that relationship building and that desire to connect with people and to help them–that counselor component of who I am– really helped me focus what I wanted to talk about and how I wanted to talk about it because I wanted to be–it didn’t feel right to try to come across as some sort of expert on the issue. I really wanted to be authentic and relatable and look for a way that if I can share my experience, and if that’s helpful to one person in the room, then it’s worth it.

Ben:  it’s interesting on so many levels because for many years I did presentations, and I was more irritated if it didn’t get accepted rather than any concern if it did get accepted. But that’s kind of a–just probably an INTJ thing actually for me, because of course I think I’m the expert! But what I found was that it was very easy to talk about subjects, different subjects. But what I learned once I started talking about introverted leadership, was that I had to be vulnerable and talk about myself. And that was terrifying in many ways. But I found it made such a bridge between me and the audience, that it was just incredible the connection and the conversations that I had afterwards. I felt like I wasted many years of not knowing that. But that willingness to be authentic and vulnerable is such a key part of having people walk along the journey with you and being willing to talk, being willing to hear about your journey.

That willingness to be authentic and vulnerable is such a key part of having people walk along the journey with you and being willing to hear about your journey. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: Now, one thing that was very clever that you did at this presentation, was that Tara opened the presentation with a series of quiz questions, and used one of the apps that works on the phone so that you can indicate your answers to things. She had all of these really technical questions around security-related subjects and would post a question and a bunch of people would answer. And many of the answers were clustered in certain areas. And so we have four of those questions. But why don’t you talk a little bit about those questions and what you told us after everyone had jumped in and says, “I think this is the answer?”

Tara: Yeah. So I was trying to think of how to effectively get the point across about Impostor Syndrome because not everyone struggles with feeling like an impostor necessarily. But I really wanted to draw people into understanding how it might feel, because I then felt like the rest of the presentation would be more meaningful and we could have a better conversation. So the questions were very technically focused on cybersecurity, and I didn’t want to have too many because I didn’t want to frustrate people, but I wanted enough to try to get the point across. And we used Poll Everywhere, but Poll Everywhere is dynamic and live. And so that was a little tricky to work with. But I wanted to create a sense within which people had a false sense of what the rest of the room was thinking. And so it was a really challenging technical question. And then I just picked one of the answers and gave fake results for each question and didn’t tell anyone that they were fake. So I made it look like the results were the live results. And I actually heard one guy on one of the questions say, “Oh, I know the answer, it’s ‘B.’” And I actually was mortified internally, because the answer that I had selected was “C,” and he’s going to totally know that something’s up.

Ben: So I have to ask you because this is the first I’ve realized this part of it, because I really thought that was live polling And I wasn’t sure why some of the answers were clustering the way they were. And it’s like, “What? That doesn’t sound right, but everybody else must think it’s right.” So, so I didn’t realize that until right now! So go ahead.

Tara: Yeah. So I just picked an answer and made it look like 75% chose “C.” And then at the end of the question, and I really wanted people to think in fact, it was even better if I chose the wrong answer, but made everyone else think that that was clearly what the whole group chose. It created this sense of internal questioning as to, “Well, maybe I don’t actually know the answer to that question or maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am in this particular area,” or even questioning the group and whether or not you belong or felt like you belonged. And so after all of those questions, then I said that, “You know, the poll results were not true,” and that I had faked them and I went to great lengths to make it look as though the poll results looked live. But I wanted to create that feeling of questioning whether or not you belonged in that room and whether or not the way to really do what you thought you knew presentation.

Ben: And I’m really wondering now how many people still don’t really realize that the poll was fake and not necessarily the answers. And no, I thought it was brilliant, and I think it was a very good way of kind of rocking everybody just a little bit, and taking them off center a little bit to say that, “Well maybe I’m not sure of what I think I’m sure of.” So yeah that part was great. So talk a little bit more about what you told us about impostor syndrome and what I’m–one thing I thought was really interesting with some of the questions that came up at the end and some of the reactions–but tell us a little bit more about this whole impostor syndrome thing. Because you have a lot of–and I know this is a group that’s normally happens to, too. You have a lot of, for the most part, highly educated people who are–many of them are really experts in these subject matters. Or some of them think they’re experts, whichever way we want to go with that, [Tara laughing] but who are really experts in these subject matters. And even so, they still struggle with this whole idea of do I really belong here? Do I really know what I’m doing? Is someone going a see through me and know I’m a fake at some point.

Tara: Yeah. Yeah. So impostor syndrome is that feeling of not belonging and thinking that you are fooling everyone into believing that you belong, and then eventually they will discover that you’ve been faking your way through and you’ll be unmasked as a fraud. And the fear of being discovered is I think just as bad as feeling like you don’t belong, because I think it’s both very much–and then what the consequences might be once everyone discovers that it, you know, it could be the loss of reputation or loss of respect or losing your actual job. And I think for those of us who are so committed and care so deeply about the work that we do, that has I think an extra level of importance to be seen as legitimate. And again, I keep–I would keep bring preferring back to authenticity. And I think again, as an INFJ and that’s a really big, big part of, of who you are is you care about authenticity.

Impostor Syndrome-for those of us who are so committed and care so deeply about the work that we do, that has I think an extra level of importance to be seen as legitimate. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: And so if you are approaching something new, and this is even ties back to my area where I’m developing this program, then there’s not really a model to base it off of. And so you’re doing research, but then you’re also just going off of gut and intuition and a variety of things and it can feel like you’re just making it up as you go and someone’s going to figure out that you’re a fraud. I think that’s true in any kind of industry, but especially in fields where there’s a lot of change. And a lot of new things coming at you, because like with information security, it’s really hard to keep up. The threats change constantly and it’s hard to ever feel like an expert. How could you possibly be an expert? Because I think in our minds, when we think of an expert, an expert has no gap in knowledge or experience. And there’s no way that you could know possibly know all of the things there are to know in a field like information security because it’s just rapidly changing.

We think an expert has no gap in knowledge or experience. And there's no way that you could know possibly know all of the things there are to know in information security because it’s rapidly changing. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, and I think also it’s the situation where to the general public or people outside the field, “Oh, you’re absolutely the expert. You’re doing information security work,” and for those of us in the field or close enough to the field to understand it, we have a good sense of how much we just don’t know. And I think that happens– again, it happens in many fields as people become more expert in fields.

To the general public, “Oh, you're absolutely the expert. You're doing information security work” For those of us in the field, we have a good sense of how much we just don't know. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Tara: Yeah.

Ben: At least for my experience in talking to people, we have so much more a sense of how big that gap, it just becomes bigger and bigger… what that means in terms of the people we relate to and what their expectations are. But that doesn’t–just because we know there’s a gap–it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a certain level of expertise or probably more importantly, we may still be the best person to be doing that. We may be the best person to, in a sense, stand in that gap and fill that role for a while. And I know for me it’s always felt, and I don’t–I mean the idea of calling myself an expert or calling myself a thought leader–and it’s like there’s all this stuff about thought leaders and people self identifying as thought leaders, and it’s like, well you don’t really want to do that. Maybe other people will identify you as that, but it’s a very weird thing, and I think that falls into the introversion piece, too, as you just don’t self identify that way. How could I possibly self identify that way? But I think this understanding the gap, and then realizing that there’s, “Do I belong?” They’re going to understand–they’re going to realize I don’t know everything, that I’m not going to have the right answer. That the threats are always changing. That people aren’t always going to make the right decisions. In some ways it’s so easy. If people can do the right things, they’ll be relatively secure and will reduce risk, but there’s always something that’s going to come in that we’re not prepared for.

Even if we don't think we're an expert, we may be the best person to stand in that gap and fill that role for a while. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: So I think it was a great topic for the conference and obviously it was packed. The room was absolutely packed and just seeing all of these people who are probably seen as experts at their universities. They don’t feel like it. They feel like, “I’m just faking it.” And I think information security in some ways, or cybersecurity, makes a little bit harder because it’s a relatively new field and many of us, there was no preparation for this kind of job at all. It’s all–we’ve learned it, we’ve brought other skill sets into it. Maybe we work towards getting a certification at some point in time, which I did, but I know in my mind that I did that certification for me as much as anything. So that I would feel more secure in what I was doing and I don’t really think it changed anyone else’s opinion of what they thought I could do or couldn’t do either way. Helps on the job market for sure. Because a lot of things are, “Nope, you need that certification”. And so there’s value in that sense in having it. But for me it’s always been very much feeling like I need something that shows me that I can do what everyone else knows that I can do.

Tara: Yeah. I think what’s interesting, and you know, maybe this is partly of being that introvert is you want to somehow just fit in and, and I so much care about–I like rules. I like structure and you give me rules, I will follow them. Um, I, I’m not going to be the creative type that can just create my rules as I go. Um, and so whether it was having an untraditional path towards my bachelor’s degree or having kids at an earlier age than I thought or getting into it, even though that wasn’t what I had initially planned. Um, and having not an IT background and not being technical, but being a relational person and trying to figure out what space can I occupy authentically with the skillset that I bring, I think every step of those ways you feel like an impostor because this isn’t what it normally looks like to be in these spaces and do these things, right? I’m looking for some sort of gauge to compare myself against and I think with information security, that gauge doesn’t really exist. I mean, I think it’s being created, but so much of the impostor syndrome is that comparison piece. And if, if I can fit in or if I do these things where I look like this, then maybe I can convince myself and convince other people that I’m the real deal and I’m not just faking it.

Ben: Yes, and there was in a sense palpable discomfort with some of the people who had come in and done security awareness-type presentations, because that’s typically–there are technical people who come into that field, but that’s not normally their interest and it’s not normally something they’re necessarily good at. But you bring people in who are relational or maybe they’ve got a graphics background or they understand communications in general and they understand audience type or personas and things like that. They can still very much struggle over, “Well how can I fit in around all these super bright technical people who are speaking a language that frankly I do not understand.” And it’s so jargon laced, and the jargon that’s used means different things sometimes depending on the context you’re in, or in another field it means something totally different, that it can get very, very unsettling.

Ben: So I guess one of the questions I have for you is that you talked about it, what do we do about it? How do we handle this impostor syndrome? What do we look for that makes us feel–maybe we know that we’re not the expert? What gives us that comfort level or centering in a sense on how we can still perform well and maybe not feel like we know everything, but also not feeling like we’re a total fraud.

Tara: Yeah. Right? So there are a couple of things. I think first just the fact that we’re talking about it is key because impostor syndrome and all the research that I did, which is not nearly as exhaustive as many other experts, but a lot of the research suggests that if you suffer from impostor syndrome, you’re likely not going to be talking about it because you’re afraid that people will find out that you’re an impostor. Right. And so it’s this kind of self-fulfilling, horrible cycle. So until you’re really willing to put yourself out there and be vulnerable to talk about it, you’re more likely to continue suffering in silence. So I think having that conversation is critical. I think it helps if someone can be the first to admit it, right? Because even at the presentation that really, it was a domino effect. Once one person says, “Hey, I struggle with this,” then other people feel more comfortable to chime in and say, “Hey, I struggle with this too.”

If you suffer from impostor syndrome, you're likely not going to be talking about it because you're afraid that people will find out that you're an impostor. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: The other thing, there’s so many, I think different things that that can be employed to combat it. But I think reframing your thoughts and your perspective is crucial. And it’s not like there’s this list of  special, crazy things that you have to do. It’s really holding yourself accountable to some degree, and having real internal dialogue about, “Well, why shouldn’t I be presenting at this conference? Who’s to say that I don’t have something valuable to say?” I think even the way that we approach situations. So when we’re thinking about reframing our thoughts, I think part of that is holding yourself to the standard of pushing back and questioning when those doubts come through, of just asking yourself, “Why, why not?” But then also being able to look at things from more than just your particular vantage point.

Reframing your thoughts and your perspective is crucial to recognizing Impostor Syndrome. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: I think, for instance, in working in IT, “Why aren’t I a good fit? Why can’t I bring the soft skills?” And maybe that’s exactly what we need. Why  is it not acceptable in my mind to bring in something a little bit unique, especially as we’re starting to talk about having diverse teams with diverse skills. If anything that should make us, I think, feel a little bit more comfortable and more empowered to not necessarily have to look like the person to your left and the person to your right. But it’s really acknowledging it’s okay that you don’t look like guy to your left and the gal to your right, but you have to have those honest conversations I think.

Having diverse teams and diverse skills should help us feel like we belong and not feel like an impostor. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Ben: So you mentioned one thing in that you have the internal conversation you have to manage. I think you started to go there. But part of this, and you mentioned it when you talked about prepping for this presentation to start with, was the encouragement from your husband that this was something you’d be absolutely great at doing, and with the job also. I think the role of a mentor, whether it’s internal to an organization, but also probably better, external to the organization because you have the feeling they’ll be more objective and your job isn’t at stake when you’re talking to them. I think there’s a real role around the mentoring piece on this also because you get that sanity check in a way.

Ben: And I know for me, I do a bit of mentoring–and usually introverts who are interested in leadership, but most of them are struggling with how maybe to handle specific workplace-type things, but also in that whole, “How do I feel comfortable in my own skin” in a sense. “How do I feel like I’m not an impostor?” That I can talk to them and reflect and we can study different things and talk through different scenarios, and it’s really valuable because I’m not in their workplace, they’re not losing their job by talking to me or putting something at risk. So I think the mentoring piece is really critical.

Ben: What’s interesting for me is I don’t have many people that I–there are a few–that I would consider to be mentors that I talk to or that I looked at, “Oh, that that’s a mentor up from me.” I have several people who are more peer mentors, and being able to talk through the stuff that we deal with in the workplace and things like that. Or even too–in some ways I feel like it’s a sanity check–is really important, to be able to get that other perspective. And sometimes it’s like, “You’re right, this isn’t the way it should be,” but at least having someone else be able to talk to you about that I think is really important as well.

Tara: Yeah. Yeah. And I think so. You keyed in on something that I touched on in the presentation and I think the mentorship both ways, right? Being mentored by someone who can keep you in check and help you make sure that you’re keeping your thoughts and your perspective  in check, but then also that you’re paying it forward and mentoring someone else. I think both are really important because they help you see things outside of yourself, and they help you see how others might see you. Because we’re so hard on ourselves, right? The mentorship and coaching that you can provide other people– the students that I work with–I’m a first generation college student. And so to be able–our school has a really high percentage of first gen college students. And so I care about that and I can speak to it.

Tara: And it might not look like I can, but I can. When I’m talking with students about how to manage their time or how confusing it might be to fill out a financial aid form, I get it on a very real and personal level. And I think that’s important because they see that things are still possible for them. That even though things might not make sense with what they’re struggling through now, that there is someone else who struggled through those things just as much as did, and they’ve come out the other end and they’re in a career that they love and they’re doing meaningful work. And so to be that representative is really, really important. And I think it does kind of help you get the focus off of whether or not you’re legit, right? Because you’re  giving back to someone else and hopefully helping them avoid, maybe not entirely, but to some degree helping them avoid those doubts that creep in should you not have taken the opportunity to be real and to coach them with that.

Ben: For many people, from the outside it often looks like it’s the mentee who is the beneficiary of everything. I’ve found that it’s amazing being the mentor also, because you learned so much from the people that you are–actually becomes friends obviously, because you’re spending that time and you’re building that relationship and how important that is. One of the really exciting things for me.–most of the mentoring I do is virtual. It’s very seldom somebody who’s actually local. I was at the Society for Technical Communication Summit Conference the week before the EDUCAUSE conference. I had four people that I was mentoring and they all did their first conference presentations, and it was just so exciting to see them. So there’s definitely a huge piece in terms of what this means for both participants in the conversation.

Ben: As we’re wrapping up our conversation, what are the key takeaways do you think in terms of dealing with impostor syndrome or as an introvert in the workplace or whether you’re an introvert or not?

Tara: Yeah, I was looking up something recently to see, are introverts more likely to struggle with impostor syndrome? And I think–I just don’t think there’s enough research to really give a Yea or Nay on that. But it does seem like, especially if you’re an intuitive person on the scale, you are much more likely to, because you have that self reflection going on already. I think that if you know that about yourself, that helps you already, right? Because then you can better understand how to either mitigate, or take care of yourself, or like I said, mitigate issues that might crop up.

Tara: I have bounced around in a lot of different physical locations where I’ve been in kind of an open area where lots of people would come by and come chat. And then I’ve been in an office that was really dark and people didn’t come by, and it least had a door and barely a window. I’m in a current office that’s bright and sunny and really right next to the main entrance, but I don’t have a door. And in each of those physical locations, I’ve had to pay attention to how can I be productive in this space because it’s requiring something different of me then if I just had everything set up perfectly the way that I wanted. Right? So I think again, as an introvert trying to adapt and figure out how can I do well, even though I can’t always dictate the space that I find myself in. And I think that relates to feeling like an impostor because you know, the more that you do something– I’m sure you’ve heard it. There’s that “Fake it til You Make It,” right? And I think that can get us in a lot of trouble, because I’ve faked it till I’ve made it and I still feel like a faker.

Tara: So that didn’t help, right? That just kind of reinforces that feeling of being an impostor, because there’s this illusion that if you achieve that title, where you achieve that promotion, that that will make you feel legitimate. And it doesn’t. I saw someone recently posted on Twitter, and I loved it. They said, “Instead of fake it till you make it, own it while you hone it.” And I love that because you’re owning what you’re doing. You’re not saying that you’re perfect or that you’re the expert, but you’re still honing your craft and you’re still on that journey. I don’t know that we ever reach a place where you can wash your hands and say, “I’m done. I’ve arrived”. Right? So you’re constantly going to be crafting whatever it is that you’re doing and learning.

Tara: Again, I think in the presentation I talked about how it’s a lifelong journey. So everyday should be viewed as an opportunity to learn something new. And you know, we work at higher education institutions, a place of learning. We encourage and foster that vulnerability to say, “I don’t quite know something,” and hopefully I come out of this class knowing something I didn’t know. And yet  as professionals, we don’t have that same enthusiasm or curiosity. We feel like we’re expected to just know everything every day at 8:00 AM. And I think if we can approach work regardless of the space that we work in or the field that we’re in, to have that enthusiasm and curiosity to say, “What am I going to learn about today,” and be excited about that. I think that makes a really big difference in how you approach things, whether you know them or not, because you don’t take it as an indictment against your capability. I think that, at least for me, I have found that that has been a big difference-maker, even as of late, to continue to just be willing to be curious and vulnerable in that space. You don’t have to know everything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not the right person to speak to this issue or represent.

Ben: Awesome. Well, it has been an absolute pleasure having this conversation today. Looking forward to sharing it with our listeners. And I’d like to thank you again for being on the program.

Tara: Thank you so much. And I have to just say real quick, a shout out to my kids, Emma, Felicity and Sophia. They were so excited that I was invited to be on a podcast. So thank you for giving me a rare opportunity to look cool to them. There are two teenagers in that bunch, so I’ll take every opportunity I can to look cool.

Ben: Oh, absolutely. That’s a rare opportunity with teens in general.

 


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Marcy Phelps headshot

Episode 021: Marcy Phelps–Introvert Strengths

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 021 Show Notes: Marcy Phelps

Introduction

Marcy Phelps headshot

Marcy Phelps and Ben Woelk talk about how knowing introvert strengths empowers introverted leaders.

Key concepts

  • Serving on a non-profit board
  • Mentoring is a great form of leadership
  • Mentoring benefits the mentor and the mentee
  • Start your leadership journey by starting small

Quotable

Mentoring is a great leadership role for introverts, because we are so good at one-on-one and listening and hearing what people need.

Mentoring goes both ways. Both the mentor and mentee benefit from the experience.

I thought introversion was something I had to overcome and there was something wrong with me, until I read that book Quiet by Susan Cain.

How different introverts feel, like a weight is lifted off of them, and they understand that they have strengths which are every bit equal or sometimes better than some other leadership characteristics.

I didn’t realize is how dramatic a change it can make for introverts when they realize that what they’ve believed has been a handicap can actually be turned into a strength.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Marcy Phelps. As the founder and president of Denver-based Marcy Phelps and Associates, Inc. (formerly Phelps Researching), Marcy helps clients manage risk and prevent fraud. She started her firm in 2000 after earning a Master’s degree in Library and Information Services from the University of Denver, and is a Colorado-licensed private investigator and a Certified Fraud Examiner. Marcy blogs about investigative research at www.marcyphelps.com/blog. You can contact Marcy through the blog or on LinkedIn as Marcy Phelps. I encourage our listeners to visit Hope for the Introvert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversation.

Ben: You mentioned AIIP, the Association of Independent Information Professionals. What you didn’t mention at the time when you mentioned it earlier in the conversation, was that you were actually a past president and currently a director for the organization?

Marcy: No, I was a director and then I became the president a few years after that.

Ben: What led you into doing that? Professional organizations have a little bit different cultures depending on the organization. Was this something–you had an opponent? Did you have to actively campaign, or is it quieter than that? I know when I ran for Vice President of the Society for Technical Communication, I probably made a lot more noise in terms of campaigning than most other people have. which I’ve had mixed feelings about since. But I’m curious what you found that experience like from one, deciding that you wanted to become a candidate for either the board or the presidency, and what it was like going through that whole campaign, in a sense?

Marcy: Well, I was pretty lucky. It’s very low key in AIIP. Before I ran for president, the role was uncontested. The board selected the president–the candidate–and then the membership votes, Yea or Nay. The year I was asked by the board to run, they changed the policies and procedures and they allowed nominations from the floor, including self nominations. so I was the first president to run in a contested election. So it’s funny you should mention that. And I immediately felt awkward about it. But then I realized it wasn’t a real campaign. I needed to put out a few messages myself and my plans for the presidency if I was elected. Even that felt a little odd, I have to say. But it was very low key. So I was lucky. And, I wound up being elected so I didn’t really have to do too much. It was awkward though. Excuse me. It was awkward because it was the first time it had ever happened in the association, so nobody knew quite what to do.

Ben: That’s funny. What happens with STC, on the local level with chapters, it’s very rare that there are contested elections. It’s difficult enough to get people who are willing to serve. But at the Society level, they’re always–well for some of the positions there are always multiple candidates, especially for the vice president-president, immediate past president sequence. But for some of the other positions, they will often or sometimes decide just to have the one candidate and than it’s a Yea or Nay. But it is interesting how these organizations are different. So one of the things I’ve found and I’ve found now that I’m on the board, and this is my second term on the board with STC, is that does give me a different role. It does give me a different role when I go to a conference, and I’m not able to not be engaged with people there. So I kind of have to make a point of making sure that I am stepping outside my comfort zone and engaging people there. I want them to feel welcome. Yeah, it is different when you go with a specific role.

Marcy: Well, and I have to say, AIIP is a very unique association. We’re smaller and we don’t have chapters, so our annual conference is a big deal. It’s like going to hang out with family. It really is. It’s a smaller group. We spend the first hour of the conference–everybody comes up and gives their thirty second introduction. It’s very easy for an introvert to mix and mingle at an AIIP Conference. It’s very intimate and like family.

Ben: Great! One of the questions that I have–and for our listeners–one of the things that we do with these podcasts is provide our guests with a structure of the things that we’re going to talk about., so it’s not very, very awkward! We started touching on this already, but besides being the past president and a past director for AIP, in what other ways do you feel like you’ve been an influencer or leader, outside of that organization or inside of it, either way?

Marcy: Well, in AIP, I am also a mentor. We have a mentoring program and I’m currently mentoring another private investigator. Not everybody in AIIP is a private investigator, but we were connected because of that. So that is one type of leadership role. And I think it’s a great one for introverts, because we are so good at one-on-one and listening and hearing what people need. So that’s been very rewarding. Especially with this mentee, he’s very, very sharp and I think I’m learning more than he might be, but that’s a really great way to get into leadership a leadership role.

Mentoring is a great leadership role for introverts, because we are so good at one-on-one and listening and hearing what people need. Click To Tweet

Marcy: Also, as a solopreneur, I bring in subcontractors to work with me. I have one subcontractor on a regular basis, and then others that I bring in when I need help on a specific topic–verifying a degree from a very small Swedish university where no one speaks English–that kind of thing. Managing, recruiting, managing and managing the quality, that’s another leadership role I think outside of association work. I used to play golf and there wereonly day leagues for women, and I was frustrated because there were several of us who worked. So I put together a league in the evening for people who worked in the daytime–those kinds of things.

Ben: Great! It’s interesting what you’re saying about your current mentee and learning from him. I have found the same thing through every mentoring experience that I’ve been part of. The assumption from the outside, I think, is always that they’re one way, but I’ve never found it to be that way. I found them to be–well, not only the rewarding fact of feeling like you’re helping somebody along in their career, but also the fact that I benefit from those conversations as well.

Mentoring goes both ways. Both the mentor and mentee benefit from the experience. Click To Tweet

Marcy: Absolutely, Ben. I learn something new from every mentee. Even the ones that don’t work out really well, they kind of confirm what I need to know about running a business, so I learned from the smart people who are doing really well and then I learned from even the not so great experiences,

Ben: Another question for you–and the podcast essentially is–part of our whole reason for doing this is to help people who are leaders and introverts. What recommendations do you have for introverts who want to become influencers or leaders?

Marcy: Well, I recommend probably starting small. Just get involved in an organization that you feel comfortable with, and start volunteering on a smaller committee with them, and getting involved and meeting people that way. Volunteering is a fabulous way to get to know people and work your way up maybe to chairing a committee or something like that, or serving on the board of a smaller association. I think mentoring, again, something face to face or small group like that. Probably just start small and work up and you’d be surprised!  Leadership I don’t think requires that you have to be an extrovert. I think leadership–introverts are good at leadership and we shouldn’t be scared by it.

Ben: That takes us to another focus on this. A lot of –I don’t know if it’s press or things that are out there–and I know I had a friend share an article with me today–there seems to be a perception that being introverted is a handicap or weakness and not a strength. What is your perspective on that?

Marcy: That one really annoys me. I thought it was too. I thought it was something I had to overcome and there was something wrong with me, until I read that book Quiet by Susan Cain, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I love that book and I highly recommend it because I kind of found it empowering because she emphasizes that theme that this is not a defect or a handicap that you need to overcome. You have to adapt. You have to make it work for you. But it’s not something I need to apologize for anymore. I found that book very empowering in that way.

I thought introversion was something I had to overcome and there was something wrong with me, until I read that book Quiet by Susan Cain, Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah. And I would say that I did too. I read it I think the year it came out, and It was just–I describe it as transformative, because it–and I’m not sure how I felt about being introverted either way before that, but I have talked to so many people the first time they go through that book or the first time they’re exposed to any of the current writing around introverts and leadership or anything like that. How different they feel. Just that it’s like a weight is lifted off of them, and they understand that they have strengths which are every bit equal–or sometimes better–than some other leadership characteristics that are out there. And I think they find it empowering. I think it’s a great word for it. It’s been a great–it’s kind of been the introvert manifesto over the last decade.

How different introverts feel, like a weight is lifted off of them, and they understand that they have strengths which are every bit equal or sometimes better than some other leadership characteristics. Click To Tweet

Marcy: I think it’s a big relief. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this to you earlier, but I used to have a blog called Power Networking for Introverts, because my friends encouraged me to do that because they thought I was so great at networking even though I’m an–I was an introvert, and I wrote about that concept in one of my posts, and the response was incredible. People saying, “Thank you, this was a huge relief. I thought there was something wrong with me.” That was really–that was striking. That was striking,

Ben: Is that post still available?

Marcy: No, I took that all down. That was a very, very long time ago. But you’ve given me an idea of something to write about,

Ben: So when you get that posted, or whatever you’re going to end up doing, let me know and I will provide a link to it. Because like you’ve said, for me, the most amazing part of this whole journey and starting to work on leadership and introversion, has really been seeing what a huge difference it can make in people’s lives. And that in many ways was unexpected. Even though I knew it had made a big difference for me in terms of how I understood how I could be a leader and things like that. What I didn’t realize is how dramatic a change it can make for people when they realize that what they’ve believed has been a handicap can actually be turned into a strength.

I didn't realize is how dramatic a change it can make for introverts when they realize that what they've believed has been a handicap can actually be turned into a strength. Click To Tweet

Marcy: Yes. Yes. And isn’t it amazing the power of the content you put out there sometimes. Sometimes, you never realize the effect it’s going to have on someone.

Ben: So I have a question not on the questionnaire. Marcy, what is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn? And you can take a minute and think about it.

Marcy: Oh boy. I have a black belt in taekwondo. I haven’t practiced taekwondo in a long time, but I did obtain my first degree black belt some time ago.

Ben: That’s awesome. I certainly had no idea of that!

Marcy: That was hard. I had a hard time with the sparring part, having the intent of striking somebody. I had trouble with that, and that’s not necessarily the intent. The intent is to defend yourself, but you have to sometimes strike others to do that. And I had a hard time with that. I was raised, you know, you’re not supposed to hit people, and um [laughing], but I loved it. I loved the discipline and it was something to do with my young sons. It’s not a lot of things mothers can do with their sons, that’s–you know–sportswise. So, so that’s one thing. I don’t know. I’m pretty open. [laughing]There’s not much that people don’t know about me because I write, and I’m pretty much a what you see is what you get kind of person.

Ben: Ok, great! So, any other parting thoughts?

Marcy:  Parting thoughts. Just again, focus on your strengths as an introvert because we have so many and very valuable strengths. Like Susan Cain says, it’s kind of a noisy world and our quiet can be very powerful. And also remember that there are workarounds. It’s just like in technology, when something doesn’t work, we find a workaround. Our introversion–we just find a workaround. I know in my business I have to get out there and be with people and interact. So, I just make it happen by figuring out my workarounds.

Ben: Sounds great! Thank you, Marcy for a great interview.


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