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Episode 014: Ben Woelk–Lessons Learned on an Introvert’s Journey to Leadership

Category:EDUCAUSE,introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Lessons Learned,personality,Podcast

Episode 014 Show Notes: Ben Woelk

Introduction

Ben Woelk discusses lessons learned on his introvert’s journey to leadership. This post is based on an article previously published on October 17, 2016 in the EDUCAUSE Review: The Professional Commons Blog and on benwoelk.com.

Key concepts

  • Self understanding is the key for being a good leader
  • Identify and harness your introvert strengths
  • Growing in leadership comes from practicing leadership
  • In networking, depth is more important than breadth

Quotable

My introversion informs my approach to leadership, and I’ve found that self-understanding has helped me learn how to harness my strengths as an introvert to become an influential leader and to achieve great results.

My willingness to accept volunteer tasks has enabled me to share ideas and develop my leadership abilities.

I had to see something on paper stating that I could be a leader before I could accept that ability. I needed the affirmation.

Teams often follow leaders who express their ideas confidently and quickly, neither of which are guarantors that the ideas are actually good.

You won’t grow in leadership if you don’t take advantage of opportunities to practice leadership.

Don’t avoid networking events. You don’t have to meet and engage in small talk with everyone. Find one or two people with whom to have an in-depth conversation, and follow up later. Depth is more important than breadth.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Many of us might agree that Western society lauds extroverted leaders and their accomplishments. However, introverts make great contributions and can be effective leaders too. As IT professionals, many of you are introverts, and you certainly work with a lot of introverts. Those of us who are introverts may not believe or recognize that we have strong leadership skills, and we certainly don’t seem like the extroverted leaders that are the norm in Western society.

I’m an introverted leader, despite outward appearances. I’ve presented at conferences numerous times, and overall, I’m able to mix well in business settings. Many people who see me in that very public context are surprised that I’m an introvert. My introversion informs my approach to leadership, and I’ve found that self-understanding has helped me learn how to harness my strengths as an introvert to become an influential leader and to achieve great results.

My introversion informs my approach to leadership, and I’ve found that self-understanding has helped me learn how to harness my strengths as an introvert to become an influential leader and to achieve great results. Click To Tweet

I thought it might be helpful to share a bit of my journey to leadership, to talk about what’s worked for me, and to provide strategies for both discovering your introvert strengths and maximizing them in your workplaces.

First Things First: What’s an Introvert?

Please regard this section as a generalization constructed from a number of sources. Introversion and extroversion lie along a spectrum. Individuals may be more or less extroverted or introverted. It’s also important to note that social anxiety or fear of public speaking does not necessarily mean that someone is introverted. (Many articles and discussions state that public speaking is the number-one fear for most people.)

For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll characterize extroverts and introverts as follows:

  • Extroverts focus on the outer world of people and things. They tend to be active and have a wide breadth of interests. They understand things through experience. They may be reward seekers and desire fame. They are energized by contact and activities undertaken with others.
  • Introverts have a rich inward-looking life of ideas. They tend to have a depth of interest, preferring specialization to a breadth of knowledge. They may mull over thoughts and concepts, but not express those thoughts verbally or externally. Introverts recharge themselves by withdrawing from the hubbub to places of quiet and solitude.

Reading these descriptions, can you see where you might fit on the spectrum?

Applying Introverted Strengths to Leadership

There are many approaches to leadership, and we often hear about highly extroverted, “take charge” leaders who have very public presences. However, as Susan Cain and others have pointed out, there’s no correlation between success in leadership and extroversion. Examples of introverted leaders include Albert Einstein, Steve Wozniak, and Abraham Lincoln. What made them good leaders? In what ways were they influential?

  • Einstein was known for his depth and clarity of thought (and his genius). He had the ability to look at all angles to a problem and develop innovative (and often unexpected) solutions.
  • Wozniak was responsible for many of Apple’s innovations, even though Steve Jobs was the best-known leader and public spokesperson for Apple. Working outside the limelight, Wozniak was able to engineer technological breakthroughs. Together, Jobs and Wozniak arguably revolutionized the end-user computing experience.
  • Lincoln was not gregarious and certainly not known as a compelling public speaker. Yet he was a deep strategic thinker and provided leadership during what may have been the most trying times for the United States.

All were introverted leaders, and all were very effective.

My Background

I’ve had a career that spans many disciplines, including a stint as a doctoral student in early modern European history, a technical communicator, and an information security practitioner. (I took a rather circuitous route to my current position as program manager in the Information Security Office at the Rochester Institute of Technology.)

As a doctoral student, I tended to be very reticent in classes, not wanting to contribute to discussions in which I was sure everyone else was much more knowledgeable.

In my work as a technical communicator, I documented ISO 9000 processes, created hardware and software documentation, and eventually moved into a consulting position where I had responsibility for end-user communications for an IT organization in a local Fortune 500 company.

As a security awareness professional, I communicate to my campus community about information security issues and threats, develop training courses in digital self-defense, and contribute to the greater information security community through my Introverted Leadership Blog and the EDUCAUSE HEISC Awareness and Training Working Group(HEISC is the Higher Education Information Security Council).

I didn’t seek leadership positions and preferred to remain in the background. The last place I wanted to be was the center of attention with colleagues looking to me for direction. Happily, my willingness to accept volunteer tasks has enabled me to share ideas and develop my leadership abilities.

My willingness to accept volunteer tasks has enabled me to share ideas and develop my leadership abilities. Click To Tweet

My Transformation into a Leader

Although there are many formative steps I could look back on, the steps below have probably helped me the most.

Gaining a Better Understanding of Introversion

I read Cain’s book Quiet shortly after it came out. I found her research and discussion around various facets of introversion in American culture to be compelling. Leveraging her work and other sources, I co-presented on the subject of introverted leadership at a few conferences. The topic was popular, and we had standing-room-only crowds. At that point, I realized that this subject was of great interest to my professional colleagues, both in technical communication and in information security. I was intrigued and did further research into what it meant to be an introvert who was also a leader.

Understanding My Personality/Temperament Type

There are various tools for determining your personality/temperament type and many resources discussing the leadership styles most appropriate to those types. Around the time I stepped into a leadership role, I became acquainted with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the work of David Keirsey on temperament. I’m not going to give an in-depth description of MBTI or temperament here. In short, the MBTI and similar tests provide a series of questions; your responses group you into specific personality or temperament types: Introvert/Extravert; iNtuitive/Sensing; Thinking/Feeling; Judging/Perceiving. The types, which are identified through the four pairs, are not distributed evenly throughout the population. The results fall along a continuum, so not every INTJ will be the same. (Obviously, we’re more complex than a four-letter descriptor can convey.)

I’m an INTJ (Introverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging). Keirsey describes the INTJ as a Mastermind. (Others assign the term Scientist to this combination of traits.) Finding out I was an INTJ was important to me because the description affirmed my ability to lead (albeit reluctantly), discussed my strengths and weaknesses, and provided strategies for success as a leader. I had to see something on paper stating that I could be a leader before I could accept that ability. I needed the affirmation. There are times I feel like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, needing a diploma (or confirmation in print) to prove to myself that I have a brain.

I had to see something on paper stating that I could be a leader before I could accept that ability. I needed the affirmation. Click To Tweet

Understanding How I Communicate and Work Best

By and large, introverts are not comfortable being asked to give an immediate response to suggestions, nor do they enjoy engaging in small talk. Click To Tweet

By and large, introverts are not comfortable being asked to give an immediate response to suggestions, nor do they enjoy engaging in small talk. I’m not at my best when asked to provide an on-the-spot answer to how I might handle a specific problem or an idea for the best way to move forward. However, when given time, I can respond with a well-thought-out and nuanced response. I’ve also found that I communicate best in writing, although my oral communication skills have become stronger over time and I’m now a seasoned presenter.

I prefer to work individually, and my work is not necessarily done at a steady pace. I enjoy “collisions” with other thinkers, but I prefer not to work in teams. Teams often follow leaders who express their ideas confidently and quickly, neither of which are guarantors that the ideas are actually good. Individual conversations, on the other hand, can often lead to breakthroughs and innovations.

Teams often follow leaders who express their ideas confidently and quickly, neither of which are guarantors that the ideas are actually good. Click To Tweet

Building on Small Successes

I’ve had many opportunities to grow in leadership, but they’ve occurred primarily outside of my professional work environment and often in nonprofit organizations, which are always looking for competent and dedicated volunteers. For me, that leadership path has been through two organizations: the Society for Technical Communication (STC), an international organization devoted to furthering technical communication and educating its members; and the EDUCAUSE HEISC. As I volunteered in STC, I was asked to serve in a variety of positions with increasing responsibilities. I was eventually elected president of the Rochester Chapter and later served on the board of directors at the international level. For HEISC, I served as co-chair of the Awareness and Training Working Group. In that role, I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate a group of talented information security professionals.

I didn’t seek leadership positions in these organizations, but for almost every opportunity presented to me, I’ve said “yes.” Click To Tweet

I didn’t seek leadership positions in these organizations, but for almost every opportunity presented to me, I’ve said “yes.” I’ve also asked myself: “How can I make a difference in the organization?” (Say “yes” when given an opportunity to serve. You won’t grow in leadership if you don’t take advantage of opportunities to practice leadership.)

You won’t grow in leadership if you don’t take advantage of opportunities to practice leadership. Click To Tweet

Making It Personal: Examining My Strengths and Growth Opportunities

From my discussion above, it’s clear that self-discovery has been an important component in how I’ve learned to harness my introvert strengths and become a leader. From my readings about personality/temperament and my experience as a leader, I’ve discovered that my strengths include my ability to identify gaps, my desire to make a difference, my commitment to practicing a servant leadership model, and my drive to pursue excellence. I’m also competitive. (That competitiveness can be both a strength and a weakness. I can push myself and others toward goals. However, I also have an innate desire to win at whatever I’m engaged in.)

Self-discovery also means you uncover your weaknesses, or growth opportunities. For me, those growth opportunities include overcoming my desire to avoid conflict, pushing past my reticence to contribute in discussions, not overanalyzing opportunities or situations before moving forward, and harnessing my competitiveness.

Where Do You Go from Here?

I recommend the following activities to help you uncover and actualize your introvert strengths and become an influencer.

  • Get to know yourself. Take one of the personality or temperament assessments offered at Keirsey.com, HumanMetrics, or 16 Personalities. Read Quiet and some of the other introversion resources listed below.
  • Control your environment. If you’re in an open-plan office, find ways to define your personal space to increase your ability to stay focused. (See Morgan, 5 Ways, for some great ideas.)
  • Communicate your value. Keep a record of your accomplishments and make sure your management understands how you communicate and work best and how you can add the most value. Take advantage of the unhurried nature of social media to leverage the playing field by using the opportunity to clearly articulate your thoughts.
  • Leverage your introversion. You have tremendous abilities to provide superior solutions because, given sufficient time, you can often see all facets of a problem and devise a comprehensive solution.
  • Don’t avoid networking events. You don’t have to meet and engage in small talk with everyone. Find one or two people with whom to have an in-depth conversation, and follow up later. Depth is more important than breadth.
  • Recharge (in solitude) as needed!

Don’t avoid networking events. You don’t have to meet and engage in small talk with everyone. Find one or two people with whom to have an in-depth conversation, and follow up later. Depth is more important than breadth. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

By no means do I consider myself to have “arrived,” but I am surprised by how far I’ve been willing to journey in the last ten years as I’ve leveraged my introversion to lead in a way that’s natural for me. I hope the thoughts above can help stimulate your thinking about how you can leverage your introversion — and also leverage the strengths of the introverts you manage (and make them happier members of the workforce).

You’ve read a bit of my story. If you’re an introvert, what has been your experience in the workplace? If you’re an extrovert, how have you worked successfully with introverts both as their colleague and as their manager? What strategies have worked for you? Please join the conversation. I’d love to hear your stories!

Resources

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012.

Kahnweiler, Jennifer B. The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018.

Keirsey, David. Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence. Delmar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1998.

Laney, Marti Olsen. The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2002.

Morgan, Elan. “5 Ways to Love Your Open-Plan Office.” Quiet Revolution.

Myers, Isabel Briggs, and Peter B. Myers. Gifts Differing. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1980.

Petrilli, Lisa. The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership. Chicago: C-Level Strategies, 2011.

Extras

Ben recently keynoted the fall 2018 TCUK Conference in Daventry, England with this topic. You can find audio-visual recordings of Lessons Learned on an Introvert’s Journey to Leadership at https://benwoelk.com/audio-and-video/ and presentations at https://www.slideshare.net/bwoelk.


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Episode 013: Helen Harbord–Acting, Presenting, and Improv

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

Episode 013 Show Notes: Helen Harbord

Introduction

Helen Harbord and Ben Woelk discuss the differences between doing presentations, acting, and the value of improv training.  

Key concepts

  • Acting is not the same as presenting
  • The value of improv training
  • The value of professional organizations
  • Being yourself
  • Talking to two or three is easier than talking to one

Quotable

I think the thing with acting–the big big thing that I think there’s a misconception about, is that when you’re acting, you’re not being yourself really. If you’re acting a part, you’re being a character.

Whether I’m comfortable or not, and I will play that role, and at a conference, I’ll look like an extrovert very often to people, but when I have the option and have a choice, I just would not get out. I would be reticent. I would be sitting back, I would be observing–Ben

Being a good actor is so much about being good at observing and just seeing how people behave, what they do and then obviously being able to mimic it, but if you don’t have that observation part at the beginning, you’re not really going to get anywhere. And I think that is something that comes much more naturally to introvert people.

I think improv is just brilliant. I’ve done bits of it, but I love it. It’s kind of terrifying and just exhilarating all at the same time. Ah, yeah, like you say, and I think it’s really useful. It’s taught me… Well, what’s it taught me? It’s taught me all sorts of stuff which is useful as you say, with communication. I think it teaches you not to overthink things, which introverts are slightly prone to. It teaches you just to get on with it. Say what you’re thinking. It teaches you to really commit. So if you decide, you know, you’ve made your choice in improv, you stood up and you’ve made yourself a tree or whatever it is you’re going to do, and then you have to really go with it. You can’t change your mind or waiver. You have to be strong. So I think that’s a really useful thing to and it also encourages you to see things from different angles, not just the obvious angle.

I think the most important thing is to work out who you are and just really be yourself. I think you have to be true to yourself and you have to bring the bits of you that are positive to the job, onto the role, and not let yourself be defined by the thought that you may be an introvert

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Welcome back, Helen. We’re chatting today about some of the challenges you face in the workplace and one of the things that we’ve been discussing offline a little bit, is whether or not you do presentations. Many of the previous guests who identify very strongly as introverts do present, but they also find they have a good deal of discomfort with it. But they had some ideas around it and I’m curious because you’re clearly very well spoken. You’ve provided in your bio that you do voice-over work and acting and things like that, which are obviously very public and you’re speaking in front of people, but from what you’ve told me that you aren’t really doing very much in terms of presentations. I’d like to explore that a little bit. How come you’re not doing presentations?

Helen: [Laughing] Well, it’s a very good question. I suppose for one thing, I don’t need to do them at work, so the need doesn’t come up. It’s not like a thing though, I’ve said, “Oh, well I’m not doing that.” It just literally hasn’t really really come up. I mean, I’ll do mini-presentations. I’ll do presentations to my team, but they’re kind of like friends, so that doesn’t really feel like a scary thing particularly. But yeah, I think the thing with acting–the big big thing that I think there’s a misconception about–is that when you’re acting, you’re not being yourself really. If you’re acting a part, you’re being a character. And not only that, you are basically doing what you’ve been told to do by the director. You’ve been told, well you may not have been told how to do it, but you–you’ve done something, and the director said, “Oh, a bit more like this, a bit more like that.” So it’s not really–It’s not you. It might be your skill and your ability, but it’s not you presenting. And I think that that just makes all the difference. In a performance, you’re expected to speak because you’re acting a part. Everybody’s expecting you to say something. Whereas if you’re at work, not in a presentation world, but just at work, you’re not necessarily expected to speak. So, people don’t–I don’t know–I mean people sort of don’t–there’s no pressure on you to say stuff. Whereas when you’re acting, yeah it’s just not you. I’m not explaining that very well, but you know what I mean.

On presentations--I think the thing with acting--the big big thing that I think there's a misconception about, is that when you're acting, you're not being yourself really. If you're acting a part, you're being a character. Click To Tweet

Ben: I think I get what you’re saying is that you’re playing a role when you’re acting, and you’re not…In some ways playing that part, you’re not–you’re not vulnerable when you’re up there speaking because you’re actually doing these specific–maybe specific lines or maybe just a certain way that you do things. What I’ve found interesting for myself, when I speak at a conference, I don’t know how much–I’ve done it enough times now, so I’m not totally freaked out by it, though I still get very nervous beforehand and I really want to go hide right afterwards, if I have an opportunity just to settle down and recoup some energy. But I found at least in terms of my involvement in professional organizations, if I’m at a meeting, the last thing I really want to do is go up and introduce myself to people or try to have conversations which may feel like small talk or something like that–just minor topics. But I’ve found that when I go into an event and I’m there as a representative–say I’m going in as vice president of such and such, I know full well that there’s a role I need to play, whether I’m comfortable or not, and I will play that role, and at a conference, I’ll look like an extrovert very often to people, but when I have the option and have a choice, I just would not get out. I would be reticent. I would be sitting back, I would be observing, I would not be up introducing myself to people I don’t know at all. So there is very much a discomfort level, but I think it’s the same thing as, I know I have this role to play. And that part’s been interesting. Do you ever present at conferences or anything?

Whether I'm comfortable or not, I will play that role, and at a conference, I'll look like an extrovert very often to people, but when I have the option, I just would not get out. I would be reticent. I would be sitting back, I would… Click To Tweet

Helen: No, I never have done. But I must admit the thought does fill me with terror. But I would. I think again it’s like you’re saying, you’re passionate about a subject and you genuinely think that you have information to impart to somebody that would be useful for them, then I think it would be fine. I think if you focus on that thing and not on yourself, then I think it’s fine too, and as you say, you have a role. You have a reason to be there. You’ve got a subject immediately there to talk about. I think it would be good, but no, I don’t. I mean–one of the things–one of the–it does backfire sometimes this acting thing, because I think people do assume that you will be brilliant at presenting and that you will love to do it. I definitely don’t have a particular desire to do it.

Helen: I do have the instinct to run away. When you say that, I do just think, “Ah. No. No. No.” And I think even with acting, I much prefer camera work. I’m very, very happy to act to a camera, but to act to an audience, it does actually terrify me, and I don’t think I’m alone. I think a lot of professional actors have the same thing. You hear the Judi Dench thing. She’s that good at saying her favorite part of getting a role is the moment she knows she’s got it, and then ever after that it’s terrifying until it’s all over. So, I think it’s a common thing, and I also think a lot of actors, a lot of very successful actors are introverts themselves, which surprises people. But I think it’s again, it’s that thing, you know, you’re being a good actor is so much about being good at observing and just seeing how people behave, what they do and then obviously being able to mimic it, but if you don’t have that observation part at the beginning, you’re not really going to get anywhere. And I think that is something that comes much more naturally to introvert people.

Being a good actor is so much about being good at observing and just seeing how people behave, what they do, and then obviously being able to mimic it, but if you don't have that observation part at the beginning, you're not really… Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s a very good point. I think one of the, one of the things that introverts are very good at is–maybe not all–but is reading emotions and really trying to see what–how people are reacting to things rather than just delivering–I’m going to say delivering their lines or delivering their presentation or something like that.

Helen: Yeah, empathy

Ben: Yeah, the empathy thing. Absolutely. I know in my–I hesitate to call it a career–in my speaking experience, which has really only been, I don’t know, it’s probably been more than 10 years, it seems like less to me, that I had still much prefer to be up there with someone else if I’m co-presenting. And in general, I run through the same issues in terms of anxiety before I present as well. I’m usually okay once I get going now, but there’s certainly been times in the past that somebody saw that that person’s really, really nervous. I mean, I think part of it, I think there is a role you play as the presenter as well, and I absolutely want to be engaged with my audience. So for me, I think I look at it as an opportunity to have engagement and also try to have conversation and try to have some dialogue during a presentation.

Ben: But it’s an interesting thing, and I do classroom teaching also. And even the first day of a classroom teaching, I am nervous. I don’t know. I’m in front of people I don’t know. They’re students, they must all know more than I do, which has absolutely not been the case, but it feels like that going into it. So it’s an interesting thing and one of the things that talking to Alisa Bonsignore previously about this whole thing about presenting. I think part of it is understanding that you have something important to say. As an introvert, it’s also being really, really well prepared, because it’s very easy for us to talk about a subject that we know in depth. I found it very difficult to talk about myself, because I don’t like that vulnerability. I much prefer–I can talk about this, I might be wrong about something, but I can talk about this, but I don’t, I don’t really enjoy the criticism or I’m afraid of the criticism.

Ben: I don’t know. It’s interesting. I’ve had to speak in front of as many as 3500 students and I think that took care of a lot of the stagefright part of it. And I’ve also done lightning talks where the slides advance themselves every 15 seconds. So it takes some control away, and you’re hanging on trying to get through the presentation. But the other thing that I started exploring over the last year or so is improv. And looking at work that Alan Alda had done around improv and how helpful that is for very technical people, whether in science or in medical fields, it helping them in terms of their communication by teaching them how they can be an empath with the audience, understand how their message is being received, rather than just kind of going into lecture mode or whatever the rote thing is that they normally say. So, I’ve actually found that to be quite interesting, and quite surprisingly enjoyable to be doing the improv. And I think part of it is it’s just that you know you’re going to play a character. You don’t know where it’s going to go. And I think there’s some excitement to that and some fun with it also. But I agree that I think a lot of really good presenters as well are very introverted and certainly the case with musicians and things like that. Also, the performance aspect doesn’t really seem to have a lot to do with being an introvert or an extrovert. I think–you hear about it, many many people have stage fright.

Helen: I absolutely agree with what you say about improv. I think improv is just brilliant. I’ve done–not matters of it. I’ve done bits of it, but I love it. It’s kind of terrifying and just exhilarating all at the same time. Ah, yeah, like you say, and I think it’s really useful. It’s taught me… Well, what’s it taught me? It’s taught me all sorts of stuff which is useful as you say, with communication. I think it teaches you not to overthink things, which introverts are slightly prone to. It teaches you just to get on with it. Say what you’re thinking. It teaches you to really commit. So if you decide, you’ve made your choice in improv, you stood up and you’ve made yourself a tree or whatever it is you’re going to do, and then you have to really go with it. You can’t change your mind or waiver. You have to be strong. So I think that’s a really useful thing, too, and it also encourages you to see things from different angles, not just the obvious angle.

Improv is just brilliant. It's kind of terrifying and just exhilarating all at the same time. I think it's really useful. It teaches you not to overthink things. It teaches you just to get on with it. It teaches you to really commit.… Click To Tweet

Helen: So I think it helps you think around problems a bit more as well. And then the whole thing about always saying. “Yes.” In an improv, if someone comes up to you says, “Stop pointing that gun at me,” you don’t go, “Oh, it’s not a gun.” [laughing] You have to sort of, you say, “Yes. I will if you give me those diamonds,” or whatever it is, and you just advance the scene. And I think again that in a meeting situation where somebody has asked you something that you know you can’t do, or isn’t the right thing to do, rather than just saying, “No, that’s not going to work.” It helps you to be more accepting of it. So, so “Yes! I was thinking about this too! Brilliant idea! Let’s have a think about it. And I think that will work, but this might do,” it just smooths the whole process and I think you can get an awful lot out of improv.

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s very much the case. And I was surprised. I’d always loved watching improv, and we would get–I think Whose Line? Is probably based on a British Whose Line?. It was a quite popular show over here and getting an opportunity to see some of–see how they work. It’s just fun, because you just don’t know where it’s going to go and it is interesting because normally I really like to know where things are going to go, and have some idea and where. I know where I want to end up and I want to figure out how to get there.

Ben: So let’s talk a little bit more about ways that you feel like you’re an influencer, whether it’s at work or in your professional organization. Whether you feel like you’re a leader, and if so, what ways you do that.

Helen: Well, I think certainly at work. Because I’m the only person that deals with user assistance, that kind of thing. And then developing materials to help our users. So I’m the only one that does that. I’m the only one that can really advise on it and discuss it. In that way, I think I’m definitely an influencer, and perhaps a leader, because I can come up with ideas for things that other people just wouldn’t have thought about because they’re spending time thinking about other stuff. So I think certainly in a software development house you’ve got the stuff that I do in writing online help, that kind of thing, goes very much hand in hand with support, customer support, and so I can certainly have a lot of influence over the way that we design our products really. Yeah.

Ben: And what about in terms of involvement with ISTC? I see you’re a Fellow for that. I know that works differently than the Fellows do for the Society for Technical Communication. So how did you become a Fellow, and do you play any leadership roles in that organization at all?

Helen: I don’t play any leadership roles as such. I do help in terms of some of the behind the scenes stuff with the conference, the one that we met at. And I did get involved with that a little bit and I became a Fellow, really, because I wanted to have recognition I think in my field. I think it carries quite a lot of weight with it, and it’s a good way of showing the outside world that you can’t just become a Fellow overnight. You have to do the work, put in the hours. You have to sort of prove that you can do the job and you can do the job well. So that was really my motivation, I think. But I do very much like being part of the ISTC. I think it’s a fantastic organization. I imagine it’s very similar to the STC. Yeah, really a good community.

Ben: Yeah. And for me it’s–we use the phrase tribes over here, which is certainly not–is way overused now, but it’s very much of a case when I’m around that group of people, you know they understand you. We’ve built relationships over the years because when you go to a conference year after year you start meeting the people and start having conversations and such with it.

Ben: So Helen, I think this has been an interesting conversation. It’s really nice to get your perspective on things. One of the questions I’ve had for my guests is recommendations they might have for other people who want to really become an influencer, maybe become a leader, whether it’s a positional type leadership or whether it’s just somebody who has an impact on other people. What recommendations would you have?

Helen: I think the most important thing is to work out who you are and just really be yourself. And I think especially in a corporate environment, you can end up with an awful lot of corporate clothes, if you know what I mean, and I think I’m definitely not a corporate animal. I’m very happy to work in a corporate team and do all that stuff and I love my job and I take it very seriously, but I think you have to be true to yourself and you have to bring the bits of you that are positive to the job, onto the role, and I think not letting yourself be defined by the thought that you may be introvert, because I think as I said earlier, often introversion I think can be seen from the inside as a handicap or a negative thing, which it just isn’t at all. If you look at some of the extrovert qualities, you think, “God, It would be a nightmare to be like that, you’d never get it done!” There’s all sorts of things.

I think the most important thing is to work out who you are and just really be yourself. I think you have to be true to yourself and you have to bring the bits of you that are positive to the job, onto the role, and not let yourself… Click To Tweet

Helen: So I think just focusing on the talents and abilities that you do have, because there is only one of you and just really really being yourself, and then learning to manage your energy. Definitely. I know we’ve talked about the thing about introverts needing time to sort of hibernate afterwards or whatever. I don’t have that particular thing, but I do get very depleted of energy at a big event. So for example, something like a networking event, I will get really tired during–even though I may enjoy the conversations that I’m having. It is quite tiring. So I think understanding the type of energy that you have is a really useful thing. Many years ago, I was ill for several years. There was a thyroid issue which wasn’t diagnosed. And so I learned an awful lot about energy and how it gets used up. I think when you’re ill, everything’s distilled and you can really, really see what’s going on.

Helen: And something I discovered, which was a bit of a revelation, was I think as introverts, we tend to think that it’s easier to talk one to one, just to talk to one other person that it’s less scary than with a group, but something I discovered is that that it is absolutely exhausting and draining because you’re having to be constantly engaged with that person. So for example, at a networking thing, although it seems easier to walk up to one person standing on their own and have a conversation with them. If you can get into a group, it’s much less intense, because at any point the other two people could be having a chat together and you can kind of step back a little bit and breathe and maybe look around the room, and without being rude and it’s much, much easier to get through an evening if you have–if you are getting exhausted by it. That’s just something that I’ve learnt. And it was a big surprise.

Ben: I think that’s a really good point, because it’s much easier to be in a conversation with a couple of people. And actually if the conversation’s not going well, it does potentially give you an opportunity to excuse yourself, without feeling like you’re being rude with it.

Helen: Yeah. Definitely.

Ben: Yeah, networking events. Yeah. those for me, those can be grueling as well.

Ben: Thanks Helen, for a fun interview!

Extras

Helen appeared in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a Ministry of Magic worker.


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Episode 012: Helen Harbord–Culture, Temperament, and Meeting Behavior

Category:introversion,introverts,Podcast

Episode 012 Show Notes: Helen Harbord

Introduction

Helen Harbord and Ben Woelk discuss the impact of culture on temperament,  and how Americans, Brits, extroverts, and introverts behave in meetings.  

Key concepts

  • Culture and Temperament
  • Introverts and Extroverts in Meetings

Quotable

I think when people talk about introverts it tends to often have a bit of a negative connotation, and I think the worldview of it is that it’s better to be an extrovert, or it’s easier to be an extrovert

I don’t know if it correlates with introvert/extrovert or not, but some people will wait for a gap in the conversation before they say anything. They’ll literally wait for space and then they’ll speak. And then other people will just keep talking until somebody else says something. And I think both of those groups can really conflict.

At work, we’re sort of a half British and half American team and we definitely notice a difference in terms of just the way on a daily call, it’s nearly always run by people on the American side. They’re the ones that put their ideas forward first, and then it’s the Brits who kind of come along and give their opinion. And I’ve really noticed this, and it’s not to do with the structure of the team. It’s just–I think it’s definitely a cultural divide and it is really interesting.

I think one of the introvert things that I definitely do notice, because I struggle with it, is the whole not speaking up in a meeting thing, and it frustrates the heck out of me. It really does. Because it’s not that I’m shy. It’s not that I don’t want to speak. I literally don’t know why I do it.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Helen Harbord. Helen describes herself as a sociable introvert who spends her working days as a technical writer for Elsevier. She’s responsible for creating all kinds of user assistance for a clinical trials application used in the health research industry. Helen has been working in technical communication since 1996 and is a Fellow of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC) in the UK. Helen does film extra work, voice-over work, and actor training. She also runs yonndr.com, a site where you can search for novels set in specific real world locations. I met Helen this fall at the TCUK conference in Daventry, England, where I delivered a keynote on introverted Leadership. Helen participated in my workshop, Temperament-based Strategies for Excelling in the Workplace. Although Helen didn’t speak at the conference, her background fits the conference theme of Pursuits of the Polymath well. You can contact Helen on LinkedIn or at Helen@HelenHarbord.co.uk.

Ben: Hi Helen. I’m really excited you’re joining us today. I’m looking forward to your perspectives on introverted leadership and getting to know you a bit better. You have some really fascinating side interests. Can you tell us a little bit about your work and what a typical day or week might be?

Helen: Yeah, sure. I work for quite a large organization, but my actual team is fairly small. It’s probably about 12 of us on a day-to-day working [basis]. Half of our team is in Philadelphia and the other half in London here. I’m the only one of me on my team, so I’m the only technical writer, and that’s quite nice because it gives me quite a lot of autonomy. I can make my own decisions and that kind of thing, and we’re an Agile team, which if you’ve not come across that term, it’s a particular approach to software development. There are lots of opportunities to connect with the team on a daily basis, so work is divided into about three week sprints, and then for each of those sprints we have a whole set of meetings that we do, so we call them the ceremonies. They’re particular kinds of meetings and they happen every day. So there’s lots of regular contact with the team.

Ben: Is there a specific kind of tool that you’re using to do that contact?

Helen: Oh, we have so many channels! We mostly use Lynk which is a bit like Skype for our actual meetings, and we use Slack, we use Jira, we use Confluence. There’s so many–and actually that can make it quite difficult to keep track because you know you’ve just had a conversation with somebody, but you have to remember which channel it was and where you’ve written down the thing that you want. So that can be quite tricky. But on the whole, we use conferencing software. When we are in big meeting rooms, we use the camera as well. When we’re at home, we just use audio.

Ben: Yeah, I’m running into the same problem: starting to use all these multiple channels to converse with people and probably spending more time looking for, “Where was that conversation?” then it should take by far to do that. They’ve given us more power, but now we have more opportunities to not be able to find where we were talking.

Using all these multiple channels to converse with people and probably spending more time looking for, 'Where was that conversation? Now we have more opportunities to not be able to find where we were talking. Click To Tweet

Helen: I think so, and also the company I work for, they’re a research organization. They’re particularly keen on new tools and new stuff, so I think we have it particularly bad.

Ben: So one thing that came up–you and I were talking before the podcast and this question of introversion versus extroversion and wondering–we were discussing whether you were an introvert or you were an extrovert. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. What have you found when you take these different types of inventories and what conclusions are you drawing at this point?

Helen: Well, I’ve always assumed that I was more on the introvert side. I think as a child I was quite shy. I was quite quiet and I definitely identify with quite a few of the introvert characteristics in the way I always think before I act. Yeah, I am fairly quiet, so I’ve always assumed I was an introvert. But then, whenever I do these tests, I generally come out as just slightly into the extrovert spectrum, which was a real surprise, I must say. But then when I think about it, I do love people. I love meeting people. All those sorts of things ring true, so I think I’m kind of a bit in the middle. I think I definitely veer a bit more towards introversion, but then I wonder if it’s because…I don’t know. I think when people talk about introverts it tends to often have a bit of a negative connotation, and I think the worldview of it is that it’s better to be an extrovert, or it’s easier to be an extrovert, and you know we talk about it’s an extrovert world. I’m not sure it really is. I think they just show up a bit more. You know extroverts are really obvious, aren’t they? So I think you’re more aware of them, but I’m really not sure where I am now. Having thought about this a lot more preparing for this talk. I think I definitely am an introvert, but I think I’m an introvert with some extrovert tendencies or the other way around. I haven’t quite decided. Maybe I’ll know more by the end of our chat!

I think when people talk about introverts it tends to often have a bit of a negative connotation, and I think the worldview of it is that it's better to be an extrovert, or it's easier to be an extrovert. Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, or I’ll have you totally confused by then, which is possible too!

Helen: Oh, I like that! [laughing]

Ben: It was interesting, because at the conference, we had Karla Reiss there from Brazil and I talked to her a little bit about this, too, because one of the things when you start looking at countries and whether they have dominant personality types, there are a lot of articles out there that say there are no introverts in Brazil–that it’s a totally extroverted population there. I found one list that they had the top ten extroverted countries. I don’t know how they measured it, but the idea was it was all of the Latin types of cultures. So it was really–it’s kind of interesting, and I don’t know how much real research has been done on that.

Helen: And also, who did the research? Was it people from outside of those countries? So what were they comparing it with and what was their sort of baseline in a way? Because I know at work, we’re sort of a half British and half American team and we definitely notice a difference in terms of just the way on a call–on a daily call, it’s nearly always run by people on the American side. They’re the ones that put their ideas forward first, and then it’s the Brits who kind of come along and give their opinion. And I’ve really noticed this, and it’s not to do with the structure of the team. It’s just–I think it’s definitely a cultural divide and it is really interesting.

Ben: Yeah, I agree. I think that is interesting. I looked at some temperament typing around the UK and the US, but of course, it’s very similar. The surveys they had done around that were very similar, because the cultures still are in a lot of ways alike, although of course there are some big differences.

Helen: I think another thing too. So many things come into it because you think all introvert/extrovert, and then there’s so much else–how you’re brought up and what’s your environment. And the fact that I work from home most of the time, so I have to make even more effort to be part of the team, really. And I love working from home. I really do, but I absolutely love going into the office and it energizes me, which is absolutely an extrovert thing. But, is that because I’m working from home the rest of the time? And you kind of look up sort of the traits of introversion and it’s saying they need time. They need time alone, or the extrovert things as too much time alone drives them mad. Well, too much time alone will drive anyone mad! What is too much?

Introverts need time alone. For extroverts, too much time alone drives them mad. Well, too much time alone will drive anyone mad! What is too much? Click To Tweet

Helen: I have a colleague who also works from home and I would definitely put him in the introvert category, but he says he works from home and if he goes too long without seeing anyone, he says he starts singing. He starts doing a commentary, like he’s making a–he’ll sing it to himself, and then he’ll sing that he’s walking upstairs, and he realizes that when it gets to that point, he needs to get out and see someone. You know, just talk to somebody. But I would say he’s definitely an introvert, but then if he did the test, he would say, “Oh yes, I come alive when I see people,” so that pushes you straight into the extrovert side. But it might not be a true assessment if you see what I mean, because I think working from home every day, I don’t think it’s a natural thing for a person to do. I think we’re supposed to be with people, aren’t we? We’re a community. So I think if you put someone in that artificial environment, I think that’s going to sway the outcome of an assessment.

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s definitely the case and I see that. I work on a college campus and there are plenty of people around. So for me, when I get home, that’s kind of good. I can get away from all of these crowds of people. My wife is an extrovert, but she works from home and she is climbing the walls by the end of the week, if not earlier, because she has not had this social interaction with people. But it was funny this last weekend, I was at a–actually a Society for Technical Communication board meeting this last weekend, and one of our directors works by himself from home, and he was just so happy to see people at that point in time. And we were joking around “Well, we’re glad you remembered to put clothes on for this, because it’s like, oh, I got dressed today, because I’m actually going to see people!” [Helen laughing] And my wife also says that she’s becoming more introverted, and again, I don’t know whether, you know, that’s probably from working at home, as much as anything else. So we’ll run with the idea that you’re probably introverted, [Helen laughing] but we’re not really sure with this.

Ben: How do you feel like your temperament affects how you approach your work and maybe life in general?

Helen: Well, I think one of the introvert things that I definitely do notice, because I struggle with it, is the whole not speaking up in a meeting thing. And it frustrates the heck out of me! It really does. Because it’s not that I’m shy. It’s not that I don’t want to speak. I literally don’t know why I do it. I just–I can’t understand it. I know there’s this thing about some introverts feel they’re sort of quite slower thinkers. They take their time to think about things. And that really confuses me, because I know I’m not a slow thinker. I know I’m quite quick and my husband’s always commenting on it that I grasp something really quickly or whatever, but I think there’s a difference between thinking about things and actually processing in terms of what to actually say. I really don’t know. I studied linguistics at University and I would really like to go back and study this because it really–I think it’s really interesting. Why do we do it? And it makes you appear as though you’re really shy or you’re lacking confidence, which is dreadful in a work situation because if you’re genuinely not, that’s not how you want to come across.

I think one of the introvert things that I definitely do notice, because I struggle with it, is the whole not speaking up in a meeting thing, and it frustrates the heck out of me. It really does. Because it's not that I'm shy. It's… Click To Tweet

Helen: And then I think sometimes there’s a pressure to just say anything, just literally anything. I read an article on how to be an introvert in the workplace thing. One of the things it said was make sure that you say something in the meeting quite early on. It doesn’t matter what it is, just say something so that people know you’re there, and I think especially when you’re on an online call, that’s quite a good piece of advice because people literally don’t know you’re there unless you speak. But I think sometimes you end up just saying stuff that you don’t really mean or stuff that you don’t really–it doesn’t come out quite right because you’re rushing to get it there. So I think that’s the one thing that I would say is a struggle, but it’s definitely not all struggles and I think there are definitely a lot of good things that come out of being a bit more of a somebody who sits back and observes a lot more. I think if you can listen and observe and not be constantly thinking what you’re going to say, you get a lot more out of the meeting.

Helen: Yeah, It’s interesting, but another thing that…I think another Ph.D. waiting to happen in Linguistics, is this whole thing about different types of speakers. I’ve noticed this in business meetings, too. I don’t know if it correlates with introvert/ extrovert or not, but some people will wait for a gap in the conversation before they say anything. They’ll literally wait for space and then they’ll speak. And then other people will just keep talking until somebody else says something. And I think both of those groups can really conflict. If you’re the person who’s waiting for a gap and sitting there thinking, “Will they ever shut up! Am I ever going to get a word in edgewise?” And the other people are talking on thinking, “Is this woman never going to say anything?” And it’s like this kind of clash of sort of talking personalities, if you like. And I think often that comes from family upbringing. If you’ve been brought up in a big family, you have to speak in order to be heard, because no one’s gonna give you a chance otherwise. I think that has a lot of that to do with it. I think it has a lot to do with politeness and all that kind of thing. Does that correlate with introversion? And that’d be really interesting to find out.

I don't know if it correlates with introvert/ extrovert or not, but some people will wait for a gap in the conversation before they say anything. They'll literally wait for space and then they'll speak. And then other people will… Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. One of the things that I have found in talking with my extrovert friends, sometimes there’s a discomfort with silence, and because silence can be judged as negative. If the other person’s not saying anything just to kind of–I think Kirk talked about this as cuing behavior in a prior podcast, where you’re at least making sure that the other person knows that you’re engaged whether you’re talking or not. There are so many times I can be in a conversation with someone and I’m thinking and I’m thinking a lot, and of course you can’t hear that going on outside, but the assumption may very well be (and has been at times) that I’m just not paying attention or that I think poorly of the situation and that I’m not commenting, but it’s very much–It is an interesting facet of meeting behavior because I am very much wanting to wait for a gap before I’ll say something, and there are times that that gap just doesn’t happen, or someone else jumps into the gap and then I’ll be pushing back and saying, well, “I–that was my time to say something.” Generally, I probably appear in meeting behavior now more extroverted, and I think part of it is that I have learned more about–I still will not process verbally, but to make sure that I’m getting whatever point out that needs to be said while it’s still the appropriate time. But they’re oftentimes like, “Can we go back to this?” Because the conversation has moved on, but I did not take advantage of the opportunity to contribute to it. I’m very much more–I’ll sit back there and analyze and part of it is, “Well, hmm, should I say something because I know this isn’t going to work for these specific reasons?” but I also don’t want to just shut down conversations sometime.

It is an interesting facet of meeting behavior because I am very much wanting to wait for a gap before I'll say something, and there are times that that gap just doesn't happen, or someone else jumps into the gap and then I'll be… Click To Tweet

Helen: Yes, that’s tricky. And I think part of that–managing that is just, not being apologetic for who you are because whatever it is that makes us like that, whether it’s introversion or whatever it is, I think being able to–just feeling you can in a meeting say, “Oh, can we just go back to this?” or “Something just occurred to me about what you said earlier,” you know, that kind of thing. And I find certainly in my team–it could be that I’m really lucky because I have a really nice people to work with–but nobody ever minds. They just don’t mind if you have to say that, and people are fine about it. And I think also it sets a good example to others if we can do it, because then it shows that that’s acceptable, and it’s the thing you can do.

Ben: And the thing that you said earlier about what you had read that advised saying something early in a meeting, I think that’s important in a sense. Even if it’s not something really substantive, just to get you in the pattern of engaging verbally in the meeting, rather than just sitting back towards the end of it and then coming up with a, “Well that’s a great observation,” but you wait until the very end of the meeting. So I think there may be some–it may be a–I don’t know if it’s a practice type thing or cuing thing for ourselves or something that just kind of gets us more in that verbally engaged mode rather than just engaged in our thoughts around it.

Saying something early in a meeting, I think that's important in a sense. Even if it's not something really substantive, just to get you in the pattern of engaging verbally in the meeting, rather than just sitting back towards the… Click To Tweet

Helen: Also, I’m trying to look at it from the other side as it were. If you were an extrovert in a meeting and then someone who sat there silently the whole time, didn’t speak, and then said something at the end. I would think that was a bit weird, to be quite honest. And I think anytime you’re in a meeting, particularly if you’re physically together and somebody’s sitting there not speaking, you do start to think, “Well, what are they thinking? Are they just–are they disapproving? And you now you start to get that whole sort of lack of confidence about why are they not saying anything? It’s almost like, yeah, they’re just disapproving of you. They’re not speaking. Because they’re not speaking, you just can’t gauge it. So I think in a way it’s kind of unfair on the rest of the team to sit there silently. Although, I do sometimes do it myself. But yeah, just trying to see it from the other point of view.

Extras

Yonndr.com screenshot


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Episode 011: Janine Rowe–Introvert Role Models

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

Episode 011 Show Notes: Janine Rowe

Introduction

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

Key concepts

  • Influencing and leading
  • Classroom superlatives
  • Role models

Quotable

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

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

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

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

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

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janine: Exactly.

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

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

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

Janine: What was the situation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janine: Thank you. I enjoyed talking with you.

Extras

STC Lightning Talks from STC Rochester on Vimeo.


  • 1

Episode 010: Janine Rowe–Neurodiversity and Finding Your Niche

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

Episode 010 Show Notes: Janine Rowe

Introduction

Janine Rowe and Ben Woelk discuss neurodiversity and career counseling, MBTI, career choice and finding your niche, and presentations. 

Key concepts

  • Neurodiversity
  • MBTI
  • Preparing for presentations

Quotable

Neurodiverse students and diverse individuals–that really refers to individuals who have some variance in how they learn and think about the world…So what we’re finding is that individuals who are neurodiverse often have a lot of skill sets that are really in demand in the workplace

As an introvert I also have a preference for really getting to know people on a deep level. Rather than knowing a little bit about a lot of people, I can get to know people deeply.

It was very important to me to pick a career where my listening abilities, which is something that just comes naturally to me, that I would be able to use that as a primary skill set that I use every single day, and it’s really a key to being able to do my job well.

(Speaking about presentations) So for me, listening to music through headphones is very important in terms of preparation and I think it serves a couple of purposes for me. One, is so that I can control some of the sensory input that I’m getting, and just drown out what I don’t want. And it helps kind of manage some of my nervous energy, so I like to listen to something that I know very well–something I know by heart. So I also don’t get overstimulated from that as well.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Janine Rowe. Janine is a career counselor at the Rochester Institute of Technology where she provides guidance to students on identifying educational career and life plans that suit their interests and goals. Janine is also a counselor, educator and supervisor, author, and advocate for the advancement of neurodiverse individuals in the workplace. She has an M.S. Ed. In counselor education from the College at Brockport, SUNY, and is a certified MBTI practitioner. You can contact Janine at Janine.Rowe@rit.edu. Janine and I are colleagues at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Janine was a contributor to the February 2017 issue of Intercom magazine where she wrote the “Intersection of ASD and Technical Communication,” where she interviewed technical communication practitioners who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Ben: Hi Janine. Welcome to the podcast. Let’s talk about your role as a career counselor at RIT, and I’d like to know more about how you advocate for the advancement of neurodiverse individuals and what that actually means.

Janine:Thank you, Ben, for having me. Happy to be here. My role here at RIT is primarily to meet with students one-on-one and help them explore a lot of facets about themselves that go into making an informed educational choice and career choice. So it really has a lot to do with encouraging self awareness and self exploration and connecting that with information about the world of work. And in doing that, I have found I’m kind of in a niche area. And working with the neurodiverse students and diverse individuals–that really refers to individuals who have some variance in how they learn and think about the world, and primarily that’s our students who are on the autism spectrum, but also includes individuals with dyslexia, learning disabilities, and other related disorders. So what we’re finding is that individuals who are neurodiverse often have a lot of skill sets that are really in demand in the workplace. But unfortunately, what was happening is when they’re going–competing against their peers, they didn’t have as much success as their neuro-typical peers or individuals who are not on the autism spectrum. And so a lot of my work is helping people who are in the position to make hiring decisions and make promotional decisions on behalf of these individuals. They really understand the unique contributions that neurodiverse employees can make in the workplace.

What we're finding is that individuals who are neurodiverse often have a lot of skill sets that are really in demand in the workplace. @JanineMRowe Click To Tweet

Ben: Now, is that just something that is specific to RIT or is this something we’re starting to see more of across higher education?

Janine: That’s a great question. It certainly was born out of the need to work with the individuals that were already here at RIT who are neurodiverse. And since we’ve been doing that, we get quite a lot of questions from individuals in the community, from employers from all around the world really, who want to know more about neurodiverse hiring. So it’s been very rewarding.

Ben: That’s really interesting. So what is your workplace like? How do you typically spend your day? What do you find challenging as an introvert?

Janine: So I have a pretty large staff team. There’s about 35 of us, but I feel within this team I have the absolute ideal role for an introvert, which is the majority of my time (up to 80 to 90 percent) I am doing one-on-one counseling and able to just meet with students individually. And so that gives me a lot of time to just reflect and work with the students in that one-on-one setting where I don’t have a lot of interruptions, and I don’t have a lot of demands to do multitasking–things like that. So that’s really what I set out to do. I knew that that setting would be a good fit for me. I also teach undeclared students in a class called Career Exploration Seminar that meets once a week. And my office in general, Career Services and Cooperative Education, we put on a lot of events and we’re in general, very externally focused–we conduct a lot of outreach. So I do get involved with those somewhat, but it’s not a primary focus of my role.

Ben: What do you find to be most challenging as an introvert in your office?

Janine: Even though I do have in a lot of ways, an ideal role for an introvert, there are some things that routinely challenge me, and the biggest one I think is when my phone rings, especially if I’m not expecting it. That’s just a–I guess–an occupational hazard. But I do find it challenging to speak up in meetings. I know a lot of us share that trait. Especially if I am speaking up in a meeting and I’m interrupted at some point, which you can imagine that can happen in team meetings–as much as 35 people. Another thing that I find difficult is when I’m being put on the spot to generate my thoughts and ideas extemporaneously and I don’t have time to prepare. So, I really need to seek out time to prepare when I have those meetings so that I don’t feel that pressure.

Ben: So Janine, it sounds like in a lot of ways you’ve picked a perfect environment for you and your temperament type, which was INFJ, which is Counselor, which we haven’t really talked about yet.

Janine: It was very important to me to pick a career where my listening abilities, which is something that just comes so naturally to me, that I would be able to use that as a primary skill set that I use every single day, and it’s really a key to being able to do my job well. And I appreciate that in my role, listening and taking time to respond is considered the ideal response to most of my sessions, and jumping right in with that verbal response, that’s typically kind of discouraged within counseling. So that works out perfectly for me. And as an introvert I also have a preference for really getting to know people on a deep level. Rather than knowing a little bit about a lot of people, I can get to know people deeply. I also have a small team that I work on as a part of the larger team and they know that I’m an introvert, so they are courteous enough to give me lots of space in meetings to express my thoughts.

As an introvert I also have a preference for really getting to know people on a deep level. Rather than knowing a little bit about a lot of people, I can get to know people deeply. @janinemrowe Click To Tweet

Ben: Janine, you’re the first guest that I’ve had who is MBTI certified. Can you talk about that a little bit and what you’ve discovered through that certification maybe about yourself and working with others?

Janine: Absolutely. I think working with the MBTI everyday, administering the test, interpreting results for our students and RIT alumni, and providing consultation to my peers on Myers Briggs temperament types, is a huge benefit as an introvert and just to me personally because of the value that I think that it provides. So within the certification process I certainly learned It did help me to embrace my introversion, because of course, as we know, there is no ideal type. No one preference or one trait is a more highly valued than another, but there are certain environments that allow those preferences to shine. And so that’s really the orientation that I take when I work with students is that it’s not, “okay, here’s your personality type” and here I’m trying to put people into boxes and and predict where they’re going to be the most successful, but helping them to recognize where their natural strengths lie and helping them connect that to the world of work. An example we use all the time is handwriting. You’re right handed or left handed. That’s your preference. You don’t even have to think about it and if I ask you to write for a little bit with your non-dominant hand, that’s going to be really challenging for you. You’re going to want to stop pretty soon after you start that, because you’re going to be fatigued, and you’re going to have to really think about it and you’re going to want to go back to doing what’s most natural and comfortable for you. So that kind of analogy we use all the time with students just to help them have a picture of how learning about personality types can benefit them in their career.

Ben: One thing that I found was interesting looking at the Myers Briggs and for some of the work that I’ve done in some of the articles and in a workshop that I do, I think many people might assume that the 16 different personality types identified are actually broken evenly across the population, but that’s not the case at all. And some personality types or temperament types, it’s a very, very small percentage of the population. Could you talk about that a little bit and then I’m really kind of interested if you see dominant or dominant side, the right is the right word, but more frequent personality or temperament types among our students here at RIT?

Janine: Certainly. You’re absolutely right. This is not an even distribution across all 16 types. I think that is a common misconception and we do see that extrovert ideal playing out (in my opinion) within the types that are most prevalent in the United States. So according to our figures which we use from the accreditation body that actually certifies MBTI practitioners and provides us the test materials, some of the most common types are ESFJ which make up to 13 percent of the population. And interestingly, ISTJ, up to 14 percent of the population. One of the things that I see often playing out with my individual students is how gender can influence how people experience their types in their preferences. So females for example, may feel more socially rewarded for operating in that feeling preference; In males, maybe more towards a logical in some cases. And here at Rochester Institute of Technology, I do work with a lot of engineering students, a lot of computing students. So luckily for me, I do work with many introverts on a daily basis, and some of the types that we work with quite frequently here would be the INTJ and the INTP, especially who tend to–I find them in engineering fields

Ben: And both INTJ and INTP are relatively small slices of the population as a whole.

Janine: Absolutely. I don’t have figures on the entire student population. That would be a very interesting project for us to work on. But just anecdotally, I would say if we’re looking at INTJ and INTP as about four percent of the population each, I would say it seems to be over-represented in those two types.

Ben: Let’s talk about doing presentations. Doing presentations has been an interesting topic that we’ve discussed in the podcast, but also among a lot of my friends in general, about what they find to be helpful in their presentations, what they find to be especially challenging about them. And most of the guests so far have been active presenters, although a few of them would prefer not to get up in front of people at all if they can help it. Do you enjoy presenting? What do you find the benefits to be? What do you find the challenges to be?

Janine: I do enjoy presenting, whether that be in a classroom setting or in my professional home, which I would consider to be the National Career Development Association and the National Association for Colleges and Employers. I Have been fortunate to present primarily around my neurodiversity work in those spaces. I do really enjoy it, but it is exhausting. I have found when I’m attending a convention or a conference, if I’m presenting, I cannot relax at all until that presentation is over because it’s just weighing on my mind. So I’ve come to develop a little bit of a routine to help me with that. And that involves activities–what I’ll do before, even down to what I eat and drink before a presentation and then what I’ll do after.

Ben: Can you expand on that a little bit?

Janine: Yeah, absolutely. So for me, listening to music through headphones is very important in terms of preparation and I think it serves a couple of purposes for me. One, is so that I can control some of the sensory input that I’m getting, and just drown out what I don’t want. And it helps kind of manage some of my nervous energy, so I like to listen to something that I know very well–something I know by heart. So I also don’t get overstimulated from that as well. During the presentation, I will often ideally identify some people that I already know in the audience and I may even ask them if they wouldn’t mind asking me a question, and I may even tell them what type of question I think would be beneficial to ask, and that helps manage because the Q and A is the worst part for me as an introvert, because I can only prepare for it so much.

Janine: And so if I know that I’ve got someone, a friend, who’s going to maybe ask me a question that I already know the answer to, I find that something I can really look forward to. And that helps kind of balance all the energy that I’m expending.

Ben: It’s funny. Alisa Bonsignore. who was a guest on a previous podcast, talked about the same type of issue that she has where she’s rock solid through the prepared material, but then has to deal with Q&A. In the story that she told she had gone to her doctor and he had given her a Holter monitor because it had been some time since her heart rate had been measured, and she wore it when she was presenting. And the night that she was presenting, everything was fine and then she hit the Q&A part, and she said it measured like she was in a sprint the whole time. So the Q&A, so she runs Alisa faces those same issues in terms of the part that is prepared is straightforward, but it’s the unknown that’s coming at us that makes it really confusing. Or really the unknown that’s coming at us that produces anxiety.

Ben: I do have to ask one question though, because someone is going to want to know what is on your track that you listen to before you present…

Janine: I knew you were going to ask me that! [Laughing] It might surprise you. I like a lot of Motown and music from the Sixties and Seventies. And I think the reason why is that’s what I listened to when I grew up, and it has such intense positive associations for me of being in my hometown or being with my family. And it just–I just can’t help but have a happy reaction to listening to that. So I will make sure that I find time in my schedule to get some of that.

Ben: That’s absolutely great! And I would say for the benefit of our listeners that I have been at conferences where Janine presents and she looks totally unflappable. So although there may be anxiety going on, it’s not something that’s apparent on the outside. Now, you had mentioned earlier that you find presenting exhausting and by extension, I’m assuming some of the conference attendance and activities as well. What do you do when you finish presenting, and you finished the Q&A, what do you do?

Janine: A lot of times I’ll try and hide, just to be totally honest! I will definitely need to take a break and recharge. And often as an introvert, that has to be either with a very small group of people I know very well or alone. So that means many times I may sit out in the next session after I’ve presented.

Ben: Yeah, actually I do the same thing once I’ve presented. I typically do sit out the next session, just to kind of–And I guess it is an energy recouping, but it’s also just to maybe settle the nerves down some. Though I’m not super aware of nerves when I’m presenting at this point either, but I do like to be able to wind down, and exactly like you said, I’m fine being around friends who will just let me sit there and wind down, but I not so great with follow-up questions immediately after a presentation, though the follow-up questions can be very good and they are very important. And what I found, especially when I started talking about introversion, there are a lot of follow ups through the remainder of the conference.

Janine: Hmm. That’s an interesting point. That’s what we do as introverts. Right? We process.

Ben: That’s true.

Janine: After the fact.

Ben: Yeah. Oh, that’s good. That’s interesting.

Janine: Hmm. That’s an interesting point.

Extras

 


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