Category Archives: Podcast

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Alisa Bonsignore headshot

Episode 004: Alisa Bonsignore–Introverted Entrepreneur

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

Episode 004 Show Notes: Alisa Bonsignore

Alisa Bonsignore headshotIntroduction

Alisa Bonsignore is the principal of Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area with clients around the world. Alisa Bonsignore and Ben Woelk discuss how and why she transitioned from a corporate job to becoming a solo entrepreneur and the challenges she faces as an introvert in that role. We also chat about overcoming reticence in meetings.

  • Twitter: @ClearWriter
  • Email:

Key concepts

  • Solo entrepreneurship
  • International clients
  • Entry points
  • Turning layoffs into opportunities
  • Soul-sucking meetings
  • Cultivating reliable clients
  • The importance of management encouragement
  • Subtext


Once I come in the door they realize that I have these skills and I can make things very accessible for the reader…people go, “Oh, but I could use that for this project or that project.”

And for me, meetings are particularly draining, because as an introvert, being in meetings is just–it just sucks my soul, especially if it’s not a productive meeting.

I tended to be extremely quiet in meetings for many years… almost to the point of invisibility, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t have ideas.

You’ve got the dominant personalities and they’re sort of fighting it out in a way in the meeting itself. But sometimes, it’s not until later on where you get away from the noise, where it starts to make sense, what people actually meant, like… the subtext of what they’re actually asking for.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode



Ben: Joining us today is Alisa Bonsignore. Alisa runs Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area. Her professional mission is to create clarity and build engagement, giving people the information they need when they need it. Alisa helps companies communicate complicated topics, including policy development and sustainability communications surrounding the UN sustainable development goals (SDG), medical devices and pharmaceuticals/genomics, network security, and healthcare information technology. You can contact Alisa at or on Twitter @clearwriter

Ben: Alisa and I have been friends for several years and first met each other at a Society for Technical Communication Summit Conference in Sacramento, and I believe that was around 2012 or so. Alisa helps administer the Introverted Leadership Slack community and provided her insights for the “Introvert in the Workplace–Becoming an Influencer and Leader,” published in Intercom magazine, May-June 2018. Alisa also contributed an article, Introverted Entrepreneurship–Embracing Your Introvert Skills,” in February of 2017. if you’re attending a conference, so you can often find Alisa and me at events hanging out on the periphery and chatting. We are introverts after all!

Ben: Alisa, many introverts face challenges in their workplace. However, you’re a solo entrepreneur, so your experience maybe a bit different than that of others. What is your workplace like?

Alisa: I work from a home office, which is actually ideal for me. I know a lot of people don’t enjoy the home office environment because they feel like there are too many distractions. There’s the television, there’re other things to do, there’s the kitchen. I know a lot of people have trouble with the kitchen [laughing], but for me it’s actually ideal, because I feel like I get a lot more done because I don’t have the interruptions; I don’t have the people popping into the office needing to chat with me or requesting meetings. Most of my clients are based in Europe–well a lot of them anyway. And with the nine hour time difference that means by my 9:00 AM, most of them are gone for the day, so I do a lot of early conference calls. I get my meetings out of the way and then I have the entire day to be flexible and work at my own pace without interruption, and it’s just perfect for me.

Ben: What kind of work do you do?

Alisa: I’m primarily a writer and an editor. I provide communications consulting to companies, usually large companies (but some startups) around their communications plans, and that can range from anything from their marketing communications to more of their technical communications to a broader content strategy to policies and procedures. There’s a lot of things that that sort of fall into that. Once I come in the door they realize that I have these skills and I can make things very accessible for the reader, and then I’m sort of shuffled around from group to group where people go, “Oh, but I could use that for this project or that project.” But, a lot of what I come in the door for tends to be somewhere between technical communication and marketing. It’s more of your white papers and things like that where you need to explain really difficult technical or clinical concepts to ordinary people in plain language. And that’s usually my entry point. But, then I do a lot of things from there.

Ben: That’s interesting. So how long have you been doing the solo entrepreneur thing and what did you do previous to that?

Alisa: So I was doing it part time, sort of, the nighttime freelance writer for several years. But this full-time version of it started about 12 years ago. right after my son was born. I had been working in-house at that time, at a medical device company. It was right here in town. The commute was great. I loved my boss. I loved my team. Everything was wonderful, and I came back from maternity leave, and three days later they announced that they were shutting the entire office down and moving to Boulder, Colorado. So that pretty much put things into perspective and I said, “Okay. Maybe maybe it’s time to do the freelance thing that I’ve been talking about before.” So, that’s what kicked me out the door. And it does help when you’re starting out that you have 400 people in your building who have now scattered to the wind, because those 400 people carry your name with them to wherever they go. So, that was a really good starting point, actually. It was a bit of a kick in the butt, but it was a–It ended up being very helpful.

Ben: So what happened was you had thought about launching this and then you were…

Alisa: Well, so we had talked for years about if and when we ever had kids, that that would be a really good time to go freelance because of the flexibility and the options there, and I wouldn’t be tied down to an office where it was more difficult, right? So we talked about it, but I was in a really good situation at the time so I had no intention of quitting and moving on, because it was really working well for me, because it was a, as I said, a good group and a good manager, and I was really enjoying the situation that I was in until it wasn’t there anymore.

Ben: It’s always interesting what provides the impetus for change and, at least in my experience from many times, it doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily ready, even though we were certainly thinking about moving in that direction. So, in terms of your previous workplace, right now you’re working from home by yourself, you have a good deal of control (or at least the illusion of control) when you have conversations scheduled and things like that. What was it like for you when you were in a corporate workplace?

Alisa: So I think my corporate experience was a lot like what most communicators find in a corporate experience, which is that, as a communicator, you have several different clients internally. You’re not just typically writing for one product manager, or one engineer, or one whatever. You’ve got a lot of people who are pulling you in a lot of different directions, which means that you have a lot of meetings, and a lot of busy time that you might not necessarily be accomplishing, but you’re sucked into a lot of the time. [laughing] And for me, that’s particularly draining, because as an introvert, being in meetings is just–it just sucks my soul, especially if it’s not a productive meeting. I mean, the meetings that I have now with my clients, especially since most of them are Swedish and German, we get on the phone, we talk about what needs to be talked about. We get on, we get off, we move on with our day. It’s not the lingering, 12 people on a conference call. “Hi, who’s this?” “Who dialed in?” “Oh, well it’s Bob here.” You’re not drifting out into that sort of thing.

Alisa: It’s a much more pointed meeting and a much more relevant meeting than what I used to have, and as is the nature of any cubicle farm, when you’re in house, people just pop by, and they’ve got things they want to talk about, and they may be work related and they may not be work related, but they suck your day. [laughing] I found that I wasn’t really getting as much accomplished as I wanted to at the time, because it was–there was so much brain power going into the meetings and the time going into the meetings, and it wasn’t really giving me the time to just sort of have uninterrupted time to do what I was really supposed to be doing.

Ben: So, it sounds like there’s a bit of a cultural difference with your current meetings over the typical in-house meeting as well.

Alisa: Well, and I think too, maybe it’s–just a part of it’s cultural– with the type of culture in Sweden, Germany, but part of it too, I think, is it’s a lot easier when it’s a one-on-one call. You’re either both there or you’re both not, and when you’re there you’re not sitting around waiting for somebody else to dial in, and it’s not that waste of time with all the useless chitter-chatter for 15 minutes. It’s, we’re both on, okay, here’s what we have to cover. Boom, boom, boom. Now we’re done. Great. Have a great day.

Ben: In terms of your current entrepreneurial position, what do you find challenging as an introvert? I know based on what we’ve talked about here and talked about previously, you are able to at least somewhat structure your day. What do you find to be a challenge as an introvert?

Alisa: So I think that onboarding new clients is always a challenge, because you always have to be selling. You always have to be networking, right? So this is why I’ve done a really good job over the years of cultivating reliable clients that I know that I can go back to again and again, because I don’t want to have to do that relationship building. That’s draining to me, because it’s selling. It’s about selling myself. It’s about proving that I can do what they need to have done. That’s exhausting. It’s like job interviewing every time you do it and certainly I prefer not to do that. [laughing] So over the years I’ve done a really good job of really cultivating good people, and even within a company filtering down the people that I want to work with in that company, even if it’s a good company overall to work with, that doesn’t mean that everybody is good to work with within the company.

Alisa: I’ve definitely worked on tha t so that I’m doing less selling, which is helpful to me psychologically, but also it helps because I’m not having to do all of the administrative chasing. So I’m not having to worry about setting up the vendor as a vendor and all these different companies and I’m not worrying about as much how to–who do I contact if I don’t get paid, I already have my contacts, I already know who to reach and it makes it a lot simpler to work with at that time.

Ben: So do you pretty much do all of the, all of your business responsibilities yourself?

Alisa: Yeah, it’s all me.

Ben: So no virtual assistant or anything like that at all?

Alisa: No, no, just all me.

Ben: Alisa, you had talked about meetings and how meetings can be challenging when they’re in a corporate environment, because when you’ve got everybody catching up with everybody to see however you want is doing, but you also have the issue where you may be in a meeting with many, many people, but there’s only a small portion of it where you’re really active in the meeting. Now, for me that is multitasking time, which may or may not be a good thing. (Especially if somebody addresses something to you and you’ve been busy working on something else for half an hour.) So what else–was there anything else that you found challenging about being in a corporate meeting?

Alisa: Well,  yeah, I mean especially in a lot of my roles I’ve had to deal with people who are a lot more extroverted than I am, and that means that they talk a lot. When there are people in the room who are dominating the conversation, it’s not my style to dominate the conversation. I mean, I’ll speak up when I have something that I really need to say, but I’m also not the kind of person who will typically talk over somebody else to make that happen. So if you’re in a room with sales, if you’re in a room with that manager who’s really just like loud and dominating and aggressive or whatever, it’s very hard for me to butt in and be like, “But wait, I have a thought here.” It’s not really–it’s not really my style.

Alisa: So, I tended to be extremely quiet in meetings for many years to the point where–almost to the point of invisibility, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t have ideas. I would be much more inclined after I’d had some time, we’d all met and after we leave the room, sort of like when somebody insults you, you get the great comeback later. After a meeting I walk away and 12 steps out the door, I’m like, I get it now. I know exactly what we need to do because I’ve had a few seconds to process what everybody has been saying and where everybody’s coming from, and come up with a solution that works for everybody, which might not come to me on the fly in the meeting itself.

Ben: Was this anything that your management ever mentioned to you at all? I had a conversation, which is on another episode of this podcast,  with a friend whose manager actually described her-to her face-in a meeting as being a slow thinker.

Alisa: [laughing] No, nobody ever thought that I was a slow thinker to my knowledge. Nobody ever said it to me anyway, but I definitely think that there was the perception–well, I feel like there’s the perception that writers in general are quieter people. I mean we’re not expected to be keeping pace with sales in terms of our conversation and our–our loudness in our domination, right? We are–we are generally,–most writers that you work with are generally more reticent than others. So I don’t think it was completely unexpected, but in my last in-house job, my boss was like, “No, you know what you’re talking about. Get in there and just barge right in and do it!” She was much more encouraging of that–not that anybody else had been discouraging–but she was much more, “Why are you not saying something?”

Alisa: “Well, because, I’m not–I’m not going to interrupt the vice president of something or other who thinks he’s got this grand plan.” And she’s like, “No. Somebody has to interrupt him. This is nothing. This isn’t smart. What do you say? You really got to get in there and do it! Tell them what you think, and do–do what needs to be done!” And so there was much more push there from her, so she was really good for encouraging me that way as opposed to the-the negative encouragement of others. No, she was–she definitely gave me some positive reinforcement.

Ben: It’s interesting because I tend to be reticent, and not that you would believe that now either! [laughing] I tend to be reticent in meetings or at least I have in the past, but for me to feel like I’m going to interrupt this vice president, even though I know this person is wrong in what they’re doing, feels a little bit about, “Oh, look, the emperor has new clothes!” And I don’t want to be that person who points that thing out. But obviously, I’m thinking it, whether I’m–whether I’m saying it out loud or not. [Alisa laughing] So I definitely empathize with what you’re talking about in terms of being hesitant to interrupt. And even now, even as “glib”  as I can be for an introvert in meetings, there’re so many times it’s like, “Oh, I should have said something about that.” “I need to talk to this person afterwards, because they didn’t come across the way they thought they did,” or, “that really might not work the way you think it’s going to,” and for whatever reason, and I’m definitely not always right, but for whatever reason, those flaws usually jump out when I hear them or especially if I read them.

Ben: So, meeting behavior can definitely be a bit of a challenge?

Alisa: Yes. Yeah, for me, a lot of what goes on in conversation–there’s–you’ve got the dominant personalities and they’re sort of fighting it out in a way in the meeting itself. But sometimes, it’s not until later on where you get away from the noise, where it starts to make sense, what people actually meant, like what was the subtext of what they’re actually asking for. They may be barking about needing X, but really, the reason why they’re barking about that, is because they’re under pressure about Y, and–“Oh, if we can address that, then X becomes less relevant. We don’t have to fight about X.” Right?

Ben: Looking forward to the second part of our conversation.


Alisa has a Twitter bot that is sometimes hysterical.

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Joanna Grama headshot

Episode 003: Joanna Grama–Leader and Influencer

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

Episode 003 Show Notes: Joanna Grama


Joanna Grama headshotJoanna Grama is a senior consultant for Vantage Technology Consulting Group where she specializes in advising clients on information security, privacy, and risk management issues. In our second discussion on the podcast, Joanna Grama and Ben Woelk discuss how meetings can be challenging for introverts, and how she’s become a leader and influencer.

Key concepts

  • Meetings
  • The slow thinker
  • Processing internally
  • Win-win scenarios
  • Connecting and investing
  • The five Cs
  • Don’t be a jerk!


I’m just doing my job. I’m just trying to get through the day, and–and you know–leave as little drama as possible in my wake. But maybe that’s being a quiet leader.

We all have moments in the office or in our professional lives where we’re really not proud of our behavior, whether it’s the language we used, the tone we used, our facial expressions and our body language. I mean, we all have those moments, but it’s just, it’s really important to try not to be a jerk. That goes a long way towards getting along with people.

You have to challenge yourself everyday, and it sounds trite to say that, but if I didn’t have mentors pushing me and saying you’re great and you can be even better, and forcing me to do uncomfortable things, I wouldn’t be where I am today!

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode



Ben: Joining us again is Joanna Grama. Today we’re going to finish up our conversation that we started in our last podcast about her experience as an introverted leader and the thoughts that she has to share with us.

Ben: So, one of the things that you and I had talked about in previous conversations is meetings. And I had–I’ve mentioned this in another podcast, but I had an individual in one of my workshops who talked about his meeting performance and, much like you said, somebody told you that you needed to overcome this anxiety about public speaking and do well at it. He had a situation where his manager said he needed to perform better in meetings, and I know what he did to solve it. He talked to his manager and arranged to meet with that manager ahead of time, so he’d have a preview of what was on the agenda and that helped him.

Ben: What has your experience been like with meetings as an introvert and what have you found has been helpful or maybe not helpful?

Joanna: Yeah. Meetings can be a really tough scenario for introverts even when you are 100 percent engaged in the meeting. So I–similar to the other person that you talked to–I had a supervisor once who commented in front of a group of my peers that I was a slow thinker in meetings. And it really sort of–and this sounds strange–but it really hurt my feelings. Not because it was true or it wasn’t true, because it is true, but because of the negative connotation that I associated with the comment. I am a slow thinker. I do like to think about issues and ru(minate) them over in my mind before deciding on a course of action or making plans or something. That’s just being thoughtful, and being that type of thoughtful cautious decider is something that is so ingrained in who I am as an attorney, as an information security professional, as a parent, as a person.

Joanna: But, on the other hand, there are times when, as a knowledge worker, you really do have to be able to react and provide feedback on the spot, but you don’t have to do it all the time. So with the supervisor that called me a slow thinker, we eventually came to an agreement that, for those items that we could put off for a day or two, I could come back to the table with comments after having time to think. And then for the items that had to be discussed and where feedback had to be provided right away, we agreed that I would provide those immediate comments and I would just get comfortable with it, but that we both understood that my best thinking always comes after reflection time, and so I could always provide additional feedback the next day, relatively contemporaneous with the urgency of the conversation if needed. And that seemed to be how we dealt with the situation in a way that worked for my supervisor and me, that worked for my peers, that worked for decision-making within the organization. I am really trying to come to terms with being a slow thinker, although I have amended that label to thoughtful and comprehensive thinker in my head.

Ben: I would say that is a little less negative way to address that. Slow thinker, I don’t think there’s a way to spin that positively.

Joanna: No. There’s just not.

Ben: Considered thinker, reflective thinker, well considered–all of that makes sense. And that’s all very positive, which could be spun in a negative way, I’m sure. But slow thinker? No, I don’t think there’s any way to take that positively, And it’s funny because I’ve used this conversation that we’ve had about this in workshops and other things to talk to people about–as an introvert, you may be accused of this, because we are thinking through things before we speak. We process internally. What’s interesting–and I think there have been a number of studies around this–in meetings, what typically happens if you have a mix of introverts and extroverts, is the extroverts will speak first because they will process externally and they will come up with an idea, and because they–it may have been the first idea or they’re very confident about the idea–people will say, “Oh yeah. We’ll do that.”

Ben: However, there doesn’t appear to be any correlation between who speaks first with an idea and positive results from it. So I definitely empathize with you on the slow thinker part in meetings, and I’ve come to the point where I can speak pretty quickly in response to things, but I will also tell whoever’s running the meeting if I’ve got–if it’s a really important subject–I want time to go away and dwell on that, so I can come back with a really superior solution that I can feel good about and that I’m convinced will work. There are too many thoughts that occur to me after the meeting about “Well, that would have been a real show stopper,” or “Have we considered adding this part?” and that could make something so much stronger, or a word I hate to use, robust.

Ben: Let’s change gears a little bit. Recently I did an article for Intercom magazine and it was about becoming an influencer and a leader in the workplace. How do you feel it works for you in the workplace? In terms of when you can be an influencer, when you can be a leader, what works best for you? Do you consider yourself to be an influencer or leader in the workplace? As somebody external, I certainly consider you to be one.

Joanna:  Well, thank you. I’m always sort of surprised when someone says you’re a leader or an influencer. Not because I don’t think I can’t be a leader or an influencer, but sometimes I just think, how can I be a leader or an influencer? I’m just doing my job. I’m just trying to get through the day, and leave as little drama as possible in my wake. But, maybe that’s being a quiet leader. I don’t know. I love the process of building consensus and sort of negotiating, maybe not a win-win scenario, but a, you know, least destructive scenario or a scenario most of us can live with. I’m making sure I hit–I’m going to call it win-win–making sure I hit that win-win scenario’s important, which you probably have to find hilarious given both my training as an attorney and the merciless way I treated you during our last game of Exploding Kittens.

Joanna: I just really think that getting to a place where you and whomever you’re working with can move forward as a team is so important, and that goes back to making a connection and having an investment in your colleagues, having an investment in your organization, and that sort of thing. Some of it is, “Don’t be a jerk!” We all have moments in the office or in our professional lives where we’re really not proud of our behavior, whether it’s the language we used, the tone we used, our facial expressions, and our body language. I mean, we all have those moments, but it’s just, it’s really important to try not to be a jerk. That goes a long way towards getting along with people.

Ben: So, I can see we have our subtitle for this episode. It’s going to be, Don’t be a Jerk.

Joanna: Don’t be a jerk, yeah.

Ben: We’ll play with that a bit. I’m sure.

Ben: So, in terms of you being a leader and an influencer, some of the ways that I’ve seen that: one, I’ve had an opportunity to observe you over the last couple of years when I’ve been at conferences, and I’ve been part of these EDUCAUSE working groups where you’ve been kind of the program manager for them. What’s been interesting for me, I thought that was really helpful, as I think I’ve seen times where you’ve really kind of gone beyond what I would say is the call to duty. One example of that is a couple of years ago when I was working on putting together survey results about what are the best characteristics or preparation for somebody who’s going to be a security awareness practitioner, somebody who’s going to explain very technical security things to a “normal” audience. So I was struggling to get this research bulletin prepared, and I was about ready to give up on it, and I told you I was going to give up on it, and you didn’t let me do it. You pretty much shepherded me through it, you know, provided feedback. We went back and forth about, “Ah! I caught a typo,” which you were not thrilled with, but in general you helped me actually get that thing done. and I was quite happy with the result. But that being able to reach out and collaborate and help someone get the work done and complete it was really important. So, I’ve seen you as a leader and an influencer in that context as well.

Joanna: Oh, well, I’m really glad that you see me as a leader in that context and not as a nag! I think in that situation in particular, now that I’m looking back at it with hindsight, right? I have the opportunity to be eloquent. That paper was really important. We talk about how important information security training and awareness is to higher education institutions, to our organizations, but there’s not a lot of, or there wasn’t at that time, a lot of thought leadership on why it is important or what skills do the people who are actually doing that training, what do they need to have in order to be successful? Because, if those leaders aren’t successful, then information security awareness and training isn’t successful, which means data is at risk at our institutions, which can lead to all sorts of bad downstream things. So really, I was professionally motivated by the fact that I wanted this literature out there and you had the expertise and the data, so you needed to be the one to get it out there.

Joanna: And then, you know, personally, I knew you! I wanted you to have the success. It’s important to me to help my friends. I don’t know that I would call it going beyond the call of duty, as much as I would say it was getting to that win-win scenario where you got something out of it, I got something out of it. I really thought that the process was fun, once we sort of decided that we were going to regroup and work on it together–and those things are so important! It would have been too easy, Ben, to walk away from that, and I’m so glad we didn’t.

Ben: No, I agree. I think it was important. I’m actually fairly proud of the work and excited that it was published,…

Joanna: You should be!

Ben: and I hope it has provided a foundation for people when they’re looking at what are the qualifications someone needs or, just as importantly, what qualifications do they NOT need to be an information security or cyber security awareness practitioner.

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

Joanna: Sure. So I read a long time ago this article that talked about–I think it was called the four Cs or maybe the five Cs, but essentially it is, some big ideas for how to live your life. And so I like to follow the five Cs, which are Curiosity, Compassion, Courage, Conviction, and Conversation. I think that as an introverted leader or an introverted influencer,–just an introvert or a person trying not to be a jerk–those are some really good–those are some good ideas to have. You can’t be a doormat, but you can be compassionate and courageous. And I think that’s important for me. I sometimes add a sixth C, which is Calm, to remind myself when I need to take a break or to recharge and get reinvigorated about things. I have to remember not to let the external environment or the external context, impact my internal context.

Joanna: So that’s why I add Calm. And part of it is being true to yourself. I really struggled with who I was as a person and potentially a leader or a worker in an organization, or just anything, until I acknowledged some fundamental truths about myself. I need to recharge. I am a–what did you call it?–A conscientious thinker. I am shy and reserved almost to the point that people who don’t know me or are meeting me for the first time, might think I’m standoffish, and I have to do things to make sure that that’s not the impression that I leave people with. And just, those are important.

Ben: Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share?

Joanna: You know what? You have to challenge yourself everyday, and it sounds trite to say that, but if I didn’t have mentors pushing me and saying you’re great and you can be even better, and forcing me to do uncomfortable things, I wouldn’t be where I am today! And I’m so thankful and grateful and happy with where I am today. A little bit of honoring yourself, and a little bit of stepping outside of your comfort zone is important.

Ben: That’s great. Well, I think we’ll wrap up now. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. It’s been a fun conversation!

Joanna: A pleasure!

Ben: And we look forward to maybe having you join us again on another podcast. Assuming we can find a whole new set of things to talk about, which I’m sure we can.

Joanna: I’m sure we can!

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Joanna Grama headshot

Episode 002: Joanna Grama–Networking and Public Speaking

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

Episode 002 Show Notes: Joanna Grama


Joanna Grama headshotJoanna Grama is a senior consultant for Vantage Technology Consulting Group where she specializes in advising clients on information security, privacy, and risk management issues. Joanna and Ben discuss the challenges of working at home, her introvert strengths, networking, and our progressions as public speakers.


Key concepts

  • Working remotely and maintaining connectivity
  • Being in helping professions
  • Business development
  • Conferences and meeting new people
  • Biggest strengths
    • Listening to understand
    • Building relationships
    • Making the connection
    • Rebuilding processes
  • Progressing as a speaker
  • Mentoring
  • Classroom Teaching
  • The Princess Bride


The odds of making a connection are really stacked against you as a remote worker and as a shy introvert.

And so for me, making sure that I honor the fact that being visible and under the spotlight requires a tremendous amount of energy. Energy expenditure is super important. If I find that if I don’t make sure that I have time to recharge and recover from the day, that I suffer, and when I suffer, the people around me suffer.

We do have a few very treasured and very, very deep relationships, and I just feel that that connection and that shared understanding is–is something that is so, so profound and valuable. And when you have it, you really can accomplish a ton both personally or professionally.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode



Ben: Joining us today is Joanna Grama. Joanna is a senior consultant for Vantage Technology Consulting Group where she specializes in advising clients on information security, privacy, and risk management issues. A reformed lawyer. Joanna has more than 15 years of experience in higher education with a strong focus in law, information technology, security policy, compliance, governance, and data privacy. Joanna is a credential hoarder and committee joiner, prolific author, frequent public speaker, and shy introvert, trying to cope with an extroverted world. She also plays a ruthless game of Exploding Kittens. You can contact Joanna at or on Twitter @runforserenity.

Ben: Joanna and I have been friends for several years and first met each other at the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference in San Antonio where we both provided training seminars on cyber security topics. I often see her as a shining star and role model for women in Cyber Security. I can also attest to her ruthlessness and competitiveness when playing Exploding Kittens. I was the victim. To be fair. I’m also very competitive when playing games. The point is to win. Correct?

Joanna: Hi Ben. Thank you so much for having me here today.

Ben:  Well, I’m excited. I think we’re going to have a great conversation. Joanna–many introverts face challenges in their workplace. I know you’ve worked out of a home office for awhile, so your experience may be a bit different. Would you describe your current role and maybe chat a little about your previous experience?

Joanna:  Sure, I’d be happy to! I currently work as a strategic consultant. That means that I advise clients on the strategy, implementing information security, privacy risk programs, and then addressing issues within those programs.

Joanna: In my current role and in former roles, I’ve worked at home. I’ve been a remote worker for almost seven years now. At first I thought working from home would be fabulous, especially for someone who is highly introverted and it really really was. However, after the novelty of working from home wore off, I found that one of the things that I really struggled with was loneliness that–you know–it’s pretty funny, but the making a connection odds are really stacked against you as a remote worker and as a shy introvert. And that meant that I really, really have to push myself so that I reach out to my colleagues regularly, both just to keep track of work tasks, but also to establish meaningful relationships with them. Having those meaningful relationships with my work colleagues is really, really important to me. Being happy at work–we spend so much of our time at work that that connection is really important.

Ben: It’s interesting, because working at home seems like the dream job in some ways for me also, but I suspect I would be climbing the walls after a few weeks of not seeing anybody outside of the area and especially in the winter up here–where it’s–am I going to go outside and at least clear the walk and get the dog outside for awhile? But otherwise, it’s cold. It’s miserable. So working at home is, kind of a mixed blessing I guess in many ways?

Joanna: It’s a mixed bag to be sure. When I first started, I went two whole weeks without leaving my home, not even to go to the mailbox, because my spouse is wonderful and would bring in the mail or ask if we needed anything from the store before he came home. And so I didn’t go out of our home for two weeks, and that was too much. I have learned that even this introvert has limits to being alone and two weeks is perhaps a week too much.

Ben: Yeah. Though it does give you an opportunity to save on doing laundry and things, I’m sure!

Joanna: Absolutely!

Ben: So you’re working as a consultant from the home. I got to know you through EDUCAUSE where you were the program manager for the cybersecurity program, and I know the roles have changed a little bit. What did you find to be most challenging as an introvert in your EDUCAUSE role and in your new role now as a consultant–what are the big introvert challenges?

Joanna:  I have always gravitated towards jobs or to professions–to helping professions in some way or another. And I think for me, I really like to be able to see that my professional efforts, or even my volunteer personal efforts, have helped an individual, an organization, or a community. And so, there is a certain amount of networking and coalition building, and now, even business development that goes along with being in these sorts of helping professions. I found that it means that you have to be available and out there in the limelight sometimes. And so for me, making sure that I honor the fact that being visible and under the spotlight requires a tremendous amount of energy expenditure is super important. If I find that if I don’t make sure that I have time to recharge and recover from the day, that I suffer, and when I suffer, the people around me suffer. It took me a really long time to sort of acknowledge and accept that I needed this recharge time.

Ben: Yeah, that’s really interesting because I know for me, many people see me at a conference, (like they see you) and we’re very public. We’re very appearing extroverted because we’re talking to people, we’re chatting with people a lot, and afterwards I just feel totally exhausted, and I don’t really want to do anything for the next several days. Now it’s always a bit of a challenge, because I’m married to an extrovert, and she would really prefer to see my conference-type behavior be my home behavior. But, while at a conference I may say, “Oh yes, let’s get together with these people for dinner.” We’ll stay up til midnight. We’ll go here, we’ll stay up PAST midnight, most likely actually. I’m not so much that way at home. I’d just as soon stay home and kick back, watch a series on Netflix or something, read a book–pretty much just get that time to recharge. So I find that challenging also. Now you’re in a business development role right now in terms of building your consulting business as part of this consultancy. How is that working? The introvert in the–really, it’s an entrepreneurial-type role so it’s a little bit different.

Joanna: It is a little bit different, but the thing that I have working in my favor is, the early part of my professional career was in the–in the practice of law, and when you work at a small firm or when you’re a sole practitioner, you have those same requirements about business development, and just business development and that sort of thing. And so I’ve got some tips and techniques from the good old days rattling around in my head that I can work for I think.

Joanna: I feel like an introvert’s coping in the world or how you engage with the world are very–mine are very situational dependent, and so there is the Joanna who has to show up for the job and get something done. And I know that hiding behind a column or a plant isn’t going to work for getting that job done, right? And you need to make sure that you’re talking, that you’re making connections. With my family and my close friends, they probably think I’m the world’s biggest goofball, because–and they would never imagine that I was an introvert–because sometimes you can’t get me to shut up. But that’s because I’m with people whom I feel very, very comfortable with. But I can tell you if I’m going to a conference and I don’t have a role to fulfill at that conference, and I don’t have a networking obligation or a business development obligation, I’ll be there, but I am going to sit back and observe, and I’m not going to put on the professional face, or do the professional things sometimes a job or other circumstances might require. Maybe that’s an energy conservation mechanism. I don’t know, but to some extent I feel like I can compartmentalize: I’m in this situation. When I’m in this situation, I have to do this thing, and I just–sometimes you have to get over yourself no matter how hard it is. But much like you, I will have to crash the week I get done with any sort of event like this just to rest and recover.

Ben: You know, it’s interesting, because you talked about if you go to a conference where you don’t have specific responsibilities to be a host or to engage people, or to–in a sense–be directed to network with specific people. I tend to hang back and not chat with people also, and one of the things I think as introverts is that we don’t tend to have a lot of deep friendships. We have very deep friendships with a few people, and for me, even with the EDUCAUSE conference a couple of years ago, when I found out that the two people I normally hang out with weren’t going to be there, it’s like, “What am I going to do?” Because now, I’ve got to potentially meet somebody new. I have to not be myself or feel like I have to not be myself. So I found that to be a challenge–even attending a conference I normally go to. If that core group actually isn’t there, it really changes things up for me.

Ben: So it’s interesting that we’ve got a lot of the same feel towards conferences. I also have the situation where if I go to a conference, and I have that specific role to play, I can play that role no problem and I can maintain it usually for the course of the conference. But again, like we’re talking about, there’s a crash period afterwards.

Ben: Let’s talk about introverted strengths a little bit and we haven’t really talked about what you’ve identified as your biggest strengths. What would you say those are? How do you leverage them?

Joanna:  Well, I like to think that I am an excellent listener, and I listen because I really like to understand how people and processes work. Although my caveat to that is, I really REALLY like to understand how processes work so that I can break them and rebuild them–not with people, just with processes! I think listening to understand and ultimately to make some sort of connection with or investment in the person that I’m talking to has always been really important to me. And I think a lot of introverts might feel this way.

Joanna: You mentioned, we don’t have a lot of shallow acquaintance-type relationships, but we do have a few very treasured and very very deep relationships, and I just feel that that connection and that shared understanding is–is something that is so, so profound and valuable. And when you have it, you really can accomplish a ton both personally or professionally. So, I think that listening, the building the relationship, the making the connection, breaking the processes and rebuilding them–those are probably my biggest strengths as an introvert.

Ben: I can definitely see that in you as well! One of the things that you mentioned or that I read in that little brief bio at the beginning was that you’re a frequent public speaker. How often are you speaking and do you find that to be a challenge and, or did you ever find that to be a challenge and what do you do in terms of preparing to speak, as an introvert?

Joanna: So, it’s changed a lot over the years. I suspect that if you talked with friends and colleagues who knew me professionally about 10 to 12 years ago, they would remember that Joanna who needed to be sick to her stomach before talking to a group of about 30 people. I really was a wreck. And so it’s almost –my evolution in public speaking is almost–a really good indictment on career counseling in high school and college. No one ever should have said to me, wow, being a lawyer and working in a courtroom is a great job for you, because if they had understood early–early in my development–how traumatic public speaking was for me, no matter the size of the audience, they would have said no, you need to be a–insert isolationist profession here–because the public speaking was just so hard. I had a mentor when I was working at Purdue University who essentially said, this thing is going to hold you back. If you can’t get a handle on public speaking, it will–you have tremendous potential–but this will hold you back. So, I am going to make you speak at every single thing we do in our department until you’re no longer sick to your stomach before a public speaking gig, until you no longer make me listen to your practice session seven or eight times before a speaking gig, until you go into a speaking gig, completely unprepared and do a spectacular job.

Joanna: So I still haven’t gotten into–gotten to that–go into a speaking gig spectacularly unprepared and do a spectacular job. I haven’t reached that yet. But being asked to speak no longer gives me the anxiety that it used to. I probably speak between six and 10 times a year in various contexts, whether it’s at conferences or to small groups personally and professionally, webinars, and that sort of thing. And I–I really can say that with practice comes a certain amount of familiarity and it lessens the anxiety for me. That’s not to say that if I had to speak in front of a group of 500 people tomorrow, that I–I wouldn’t spend every blessed minute before that presentation, cramming and practicing and making sure I can say my name correctly. But, even seven years ago, that type of context would have, would have stymied me and crippled me and it doesn’t anymore. And it’s just a mentor who said, you’re going to do this until you can do this well.

Ben: It’s really interesting, because I look back–my public speaking journey, so to speak, which I haven’t looked at it in that way. I think I did my first conference presentation somewhere around 2012, 2011. So, we’ve been speaking really, for about the same period of time.

Ben: I was really unsure of myself. What was funny, was the first opportunity I had at a conference was actually to do a lightning talk (and for our listeners a lightning talk is 20 slides that move on their own every 15 seconds, whether you’re prepared for them to move or not. So there’s always a possibility of a real train wreck happening with the speaker.) But that was the opportunity I was given and the chance to volunteer to do that at a conference–I think–helped me get past some of that fear of speaking.

Ben: The other thing that was interesting, was that I was video recorded, and I had so many mannerisms that I wasn’t aware of, and like, oh wow, I stand exactly like my mom used to with her hand. Or, just different things that are not necessarily bad things, but just things that I wasn’t aware of. So it’s really interesting. But my progression on speaking, I never had anyone come say, “You have to do this or it’s going to hold you back,” probably because I was not in a role where that would be the case. But my progression I think happened for a couple of reasons. One, I do classroom teaching every year, usually one or two classes per year, so I’ve always got that “in front of the students thing” which can still be terrifying on the first day, because at least for the first few years, I was sure they all knew more than I did about the subject.

Ben: Now, I’ve since learned differently about that–or maybe I’ve learned more about the subject–so I didn’t have quite that fear, but I still always have a concern about, “How are they reacting? Are they engaged with what I’m talking about? Will they understand the references that I use?” I was talking with somebody today–talking–when I talked to my Intro to Computing Security class last fall. We have a section where we talk about Remote Access Trojans (RATS), and MEECES, and MICE. They’re all these acronyms they’ve come up with, so I thought it would be really clever to slip in ROUSs, and only one person in the entire room understood the reference–even though I had a picture of the ROUS from The Princess Bride. So I’ve pretty much given up about references to films and things because there’s too much, “Oh yeah. Didn’t that come out when I was three?” sort of thing. And so that’s kind of been a little–I won’t talk about that part of it. But what was interesting in the public speaking at conferences, I kind of worked my way up because I did the five minute crash lightning talk–which actually went pretty well–but the following year, I co-presented with somebody, and I co-presented with somebody the next time, and that made it so much easier for me just to have someone up there with me.

Ben: And, we were both introverts. I think we were both nervous about it, but it just helped knowing that you are partnering with somebody. I didn’t actually do my first solo big presentation at a conference until two or three years ago. And that was the first time I spoke about introverted leadership, and discovered, hey, there are a lot of introverts in this group and this is important information for them. And that’s part of what has become the trigger for actually doing this podcast as well. But, I don’t want to monopolize the time with me by far here, but the public speaking thing is really, really interesting. Now…

Joanna: Well, I think, Ben, one of the things that you need to consider for your class is making The Princess Bride required viewing. I mean–I just think that is a base level of knowledge that any person today should have.

Ben:  That’s very true, and if I can find some way to work information security references into it, there may be a way to get by with it. I have to think about that for awhile. But I agree, that’s kind of fundamental to our culture. How can you not know, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, Prepare to die.” It’s just such a base part of our culture.

Joanna:   “You killed my father, Prepare to die.”

Ben: Looking forward to the second part of our conversation.


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Episode 001: Sara Feldman–Life As An Introverted Leader

Category:Introverted Leadership,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 001 Show Notes: Sara Feldman


Sara Feldman photoSara Feldman is a content experience strategist at MindTouch. We discuss her role, and what it’s like for her as a leader and influencer in the workplace and as a leader of the STC San Diego community. Topics include how she recoups energy, planning ahead for carving out recovery time, pre-charging before a grueling stretch of interacting with others, meeting strategies, and how being a leader actually helps when attending networking events.


Key concepts

  • Recouping energy, recharging and pre-charging
  • Webinars and speaking into the void
  • Planning audience interaction in presentations
  • Practice what’s difficult
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Meeting previews
  • Small-talk and large groups
  • Playing the role
  • Mentors and confidants


Introversion is not a barrier for being able to tackle any new challenges.

When things are uncomfortable, the more you do them, the easier they are and that’s how it is–Just accepting that it’s going to be hard and that’s okay, and pre-planning how to recover and recoup from that, is part of preparing and practicing to do some of these interactions

More difficult is not a reason to not do something.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode



Ben:  Joining us today is Sara Feldman. Sara works as a content experience manager at MindTouch. Sara is also the president of the STC San Diego chapter. You can contact Sara on Twitter @SaraContentWise.

Ben: What is content experience and what do you do with it?

Sara: Great question, and it really is varied, but the general concept of a content experience strategist or content experience manager is that it’s someone who is responsible for content in a more holistic way, in particular in the way that it’s consumed by users, caring a lot about delivery in terms of device type and where the user is in what they’re trying to do, like where and why and how they’re going to be interacting with it–what their mission is and keeping all of that in consideration when making strategic content decisions. Part of that requires a lot of collaboration across stakeholders across departments, so while a content experience manager doesn’t necessarily own all content assets, they’re the person who is responsible for connecting the dots between all content producers and making sure that everyone’s on the same page, so to speak, about what we’re trying to do and why and how it’s being delivered, and then most importantly, making sure you’re doing things in a way that can be measured and optimized.

Ben: Basically, all of us interface at least with content experience in some sense. So is it primarily a concern about the customer or focus on the customer then?

Sara: A lot of that is, yeah–caring more about how the customer consumes it, and again, they’re not just consuming your content in a vacuum. We’re not producing or publishing this content without considering the holistic customer journey and how and why they’re interacting with content in any given moment.

Ben: OK, great! Other things to chat about. As you heard in the intro, what we’re talking about is primarily introverts and introvert leaders in the workplace. (One thing that I didn’t mention in the intro is that Sara helped in terms of being a resource for an article that was recently published in Intercom magazine, “The Introvert in the Workplace: Becoming an Influencer and Leader,” and she was one of five people who agreed to be interviewed in context with that as well.) So I’m going to move us over to chatting a little bit about what it’s like to be an introvert in the workplace where you are, what you found that works for you, what you found that are challenges.

Why don’t you just start off by telling us a little bit about your job and what it’s like to be an introvert there?

Sara: Gosh, that’s a huge open question. There’s lots to say about that, but in general right now, my job, I’m kind of lucky because I’ve carved out a position for myself in my current organization where I get to do what I want in terms of having influence on content experience and I get to work with a lot of people.

Sara:  I love my coworkers. We get along great–great collaboration. However, I’m pretty independent as well. I have a lot of autonomy and bandwidth to make my own calls and make my own decisions. I don’t have any direct reports right now. I have in the past, but because my role is about managing a content experience across the board and across our customer’s journey and experience, I get to sort of influence through my work and through connecting the dots of content across departments rather than actually leading a team, if that makes sense. So that’s a really great fit. It’s a great way for me to have influence, because it truly is about the work and the results, and the customer experience rather than any of my own opinions.

Ben:  Talking about in terms of what you been able to do to carve out the job and carve out the space is something that absolutely resonates with me because I thrive in that environment, but not where everything is already in place and I have to follow whatever the routines are. So, that sounds like a great place in terms of being able to explore things and do that.

Ben:  What have you found to be your biggest challenge, and maybe it’s larger than just your job with MindTouch, but what have you found to be your biggest challenge as an introverted leader, because you are leading an STC chapter, which would involve practitioners from across the San Diego area? Plus, I’ve recently connected you into doing things across the whole international society. So what do you see as your biggest challenges there?

Sara:  I would say it really comes down to the basics of the difference between introverts and extroverts in particular, how introverts need to recoup energy. So,  I consider myself an outgoing introvert. I’m really social, especially when it’s kind of about work or things I’m already sort of familiar with or comfortable with and it’s really easy me to interact with others. I tend to get along pretty well with most people, but it’s anticipating that I’m going to run out of steam and then I’m going to need to proactively plan for how I can carve out recovery time, and sometimes that happens in the middle of the day or the middle of a week, or it’s just knowing how I need to recharge at the end of the day, but yeah, with what I do with STC, sometimes I’m interacting with people all day long so that means knowing that if I have an STC event at night, it’s going to involve a lot of interaction and networking and driving some conversation in that group. I’ll make sure that I have lunch by myself, if that makes sense. I’ll pre-anticipate doing things like that so I can kind of recharge throughout the day, knowing that I’m going to be wiped out at the end of the day. Some of it, too, is just planning ahead for being wiped out. Setting expectations, planning my schedule ahead so that I don’t, if possible, have too much all happening at once

Ben: OK, so you basically “top off” before you experience the event?

Sara: Yeah, so I call it–I was joking, I think, with you over Slack over the other weekend when I knew I was going to have an intense three day workshop traveling for work one week, is I would call it pre–so there’s recharging, but I was calling it pre-charging, so I pre-charge with my alone time if I need to, if I know I’m going to be interacting a lot, so I build in my pre-charge and my recharge time.

Ben: Yes, sounds like a great practice. One of the things when I started talking about introverted leadership a few years ago, one of the books had this joking reference talking about the speaker and where you would find the speaker after the presentation and the joke was well, the speaker’s in stall six hiding in the bathroom, recovering basically so that they can at least regain some energy and probably a little bit of composure to.

Ben:  You do presentations as well. I know you’ve recently started doing more presentations and we’ve done online workshops together, which have worked great because we can see each other and we can kind of play off of each other and see how we’re interacting with each other, which helps. I know that you’ve done a Webinar in the past too, where you weren’t able to see the audience at all. Can you talk about that experience and what you found especially challenging and if you found ways to actually cope with that when you were doing it? For those of you who are listening, a Webinar is a web-based presentation, but typically the presenter has no contact with the audience. The audience is usually muted because otherwise you’ll hear the dogs in the background and pneumatic drills and kind of just about every interruption that you could imagine. So for the presenter, it’s like speaking out into the void. So how has that worked for you and do you enjoy giving those types of webinars?

Sara: I can tell that’s a leading question, because we have talked about this a bit! So, I’m not a fan of the one-way webinar style presentation–the talking into the void, as you say. It’s almost ironic in a way, because you think as an introvert interaction can be more draining, but what’s more draining than interaction is feeling like you’re carrying it all–that you’re talking into this void. You have no feedback, you have no response in terms of how anything’s resonating, and the truth is, when your presentation format is able to be more interactive, you’re actually relying on your audience to help bring something, bring energy, bring interest, bring a dynamic to the presentation that makes it a lot more interesting. So, not a fan of the one-way talking into the void webinars, and in presentations, this is something I try to do and I actually am actively trying to improve specifically when it comes to audience interaction with presentations. It is something I’ve found that needs practice, needs prompting, needs sort of proactive planning for how you’re going to, because you have important content that you want to present and there’s a way you need to do that.

Sara: I don’t know if this is an introvert thing or just a less experienced presenter thing, but for me, I need to plan the audience interaction–at least possibilities for audience interaction–in advance. I think about questions I’m going to ask. I find that once I sort of start asking questions, then I almost can riff off of what I said and what the audience says, but if I don’t pre-plan those moments that I am going to invite interaction, then I just breeze right past them, and that’s just a part of me getting more comfortable with presenting. I think it’ll come more naturally as it goes, but it’s also because of who we present to, right? We work in an industry that’s full of introverts and so even when we’re among our tribe in a presentation and being among our tribe I think does make introverts and tech writers feel a little bit more comfortable speaking up. They need a little bit of prompting. It’s almost like a collaborative effort to get some sort of two-way or multi-way communication going in those presentations, but that’s what I strive for.

Ben:  In a webinar-type setting, I know one way to gain the interaction is to try to do quiz questions or something like that, so that’s one way to do it. The hard part that I’ve experienced is that when you ask a question, you really feels like it’s a totally interminable waiting period for somebody to respond. Now sometimes, that may be because they’ve still muted themselves. But often, at least personally, I’ve found the pacing can be really difficult and tricky, and for me, when I reached the end of a Webinar-type presentation, and I’ve not been able to see anybody’s face the whole time, it’s kind of, are you all there still? Are you awake? Was it okay? Did you enjoy it? Was I terrible? All those thoughts will run through my mind, and sometimes I’ll actually ask some of those things, and then the note I’ll get back is, “No, everybody here is laughing because you’ve asked those questions.” But, in terms of–and we have talked about this–webinars are a very, I think very artificial way of delivering content, because we don’t have the audience interaction.

Ben:  So, for me it would not be as terrifying in terms of not getting–if I’m doing a stand up presentation in front of a group of people and I am watching for facial cues, if I got no cues and everybody was just kind of sitting there with their arms crossed and looking at their phones or nodding off, I would probably panic to a good extent. It’s interesting. In theory that should be harder for us I think (as introverts) to be up in front of a crowd speaking, but it doesn’t always seem to work that way. How do you feel about that? I mean, do you feel–actually, I mean you’ve not presented that many times at conferences yet–so how are you doing with your comfort level around that? And again, I’m not sure how much of this is an introvert/extrovert thing, because presentation anxiety seems to go with people, period. I think the assumption is that if you’re an introvert, you’re going to have anxiety doing presentations, but I know plenty of extroverts who absolutely do not want to get in front of people and speak. So what do you find with the experience in terms of what helps you, what’s challenging, what works and doesn’t work for you?

Sara:  I would say, the common thread here between presentation anxiety and being an introvert in a career in general–the common thread is you have to just practice to get better at it. That’s what I found in presentations. So I think this applies whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. If you have anxiety, if you have discomfort with the format, the only way to improve and push past that is to practice. Now, I think where that connects to, like I was saying, being an introvert and trying to be an influencer–a leader at work–is recognizing that, yes, there are some things that you will never be able to change. In particular, like I mentioned before, how you recoup, how you regain your energy. But that’s not an excuse to not go out of your comfort zone, right? I think some people, perhaps, would allow themselves to think, well, I’m an introvert. I shouldn’t try to be a manager because it feels uncomfortable, and they think the new workplace situations are uncomfortable because they’re an introvert, and it’s giving them some sort of handicap for approaching it, whereas, it’s just because it’s a new experience. And so I think some of it is not overly settling into the fact that you’re an introvert, like not letting that be a weight dragging you down, letting you know that in some way that you need to plan ahead for how you do things, how you recover.

Sara: It’s not a barrier of being able to tackle any new challenges.

Ben: It’s interesting, because I have a friend who kind of put together a spoof blog. She was looking at Myers-Briggs and how people would look at their letters and find out, oh, I’m such and such, and then kind of uses an excuse like, I’m sorry, I’m in. Whatever it would be. INTP. I don’t do that. I don’t have to do that, I’ve taken this personality profile and it says I don’t do that, so I’m not going to try to do it. But she was making more of a joke of it, but I think it’s things she has actually observed in the workplace, too. It’s like, you know, I’m an introvert, don’t make me talk, that sort of thing.

So one of the–and this we haven’t talked about before–one of the interesting challenges that came up when I did the Revive and Thrive workshop at Summit a year ago, one of the participants talked about the fact that he would be called into team meetings and his manager would expect him to be able to give immediate answers and immediate feedback on things that were asked or discussed in the meetings. For him, it was difficult enough that his manager basically met with him and said, you need to improve your performance. And he had some ideas around that, which we’ll talk about in a minute, but how do you feel that works for you as a thinking analyzing introvert who has a lot going on? Because we’ve had enough conversations, that we both know that for both of us. How does it work for you if you’re in meetings and you’re asked to respond to something on the spot?

Sara: That’s not something that I had too much trouble with personally, especially in small group settings and again, when things are focused on the work. For me, where I struggle is the small talk situations, so it’s the after-work happy hours or the big group lunches where it’s kind of open format, so for me, when it’s focused on the work, I don’t struggle with that as much, but at the same time if I ever were to not be sure or feel like I need more time to come up with an answer, then I would, you know, what do they call those–talking points, not talking points, but scripts. Have a script in your head so that if you don’t know the answer, you can just say, “You know what? I want to give you a really thorough or complete or accurate answer. Let me get back to you end of day or after lunch or you know, whatever–insert time here.” Yeah. Just being comfortable with saying, I don’t know yet, but let me get back to you and committing to following up.

Ben:  Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense, and the one individual that I was referring to, what his strategy was–he ended up doing was–that he actually arranged with his manager to meet ahead of those meetings so that he would have a preview of what they would be talking about, and then he felt comfortable contributing to it because he wasn’t hearing things for the first time. I, like you, have gotten to the point I can speak off the cuff pretty well.

I find more of a challenge with the large group events and making small talk and being in a room with people that I don’t know at all, and I don’t really want to talk about the weather or what feels like–for an introvert feels like–a very shallow level of conversation, but if there’s somebody I know in the room, I’m going to make a beeline for them. Preferably so I don’t have to talk to anybody else, which is horrible in terms of getting out and networking and things like that! Have you found anything that helps in terms of these networking events to make them more manageable at all, or they may just inherently be painful for us?

Sara: Haha! They are painful–a little bit. I think having some thoughts already planned ahead of what you might talk about can help a lot. I think it’s also okay to just know that something’s going to be a little bit more difficult for you. Right? It’s not a reason to not do it. It’s not a reason to dread doing and it’s the reason to practice it, if anything. So, I think it’s a little bit of preparation and it’s a little bit of acceptance, like it is what it is. And remembering that all people are more similar than they are different, so introvert or extrovert, these types of things–sometimes struggling at networking events, trying to come up with the right thing to say–everyone feels the same way. You’re not in a room talking to a bunch of people that are better than you. They’re your peers and they’re trying to engage in conversation just like you are. So that’s part of the acceptance–sort of being realistic about what the stakes are and who you’re going to be interacting with. It’s not that big of a deal.

Ben:  So, if you go into networking event, are you more in the large cluster of people talking loudly in the center of the room or will you head more towards the edges of the room where there are less people, and maybe you’re going to have more one-on-one or two-, you know, three-person type conversations?

Sara:  Definitely more on the edge, for sure. Another thing that just occurred to me is that this–this sounds a little bit ironic or surprising as well, but especially with the STC events–now that I’ve taken on a leadership role, it’s actually easier, even though there’s been some stretching to get comfortable with that role. The networking events themselves are actually easier because I have more of an agenda or purpose. I’m not just there for me. I’m there to represent the chapter and help members connect with each other. So again, it goes back to what I was saying–it’s when I can get away from the sort of small talk pressure and have an agenda, focus on the work, focus on the mission or the purpose of what we’re trying to do–then it’s not even about me. It’s about something else. It’s about community or whatever it might be. It’s thinking about whatever the sort of the meat is that’s not about you, right? And strangely, stepping into a leadership role has given me more other things to focus on besides myself when it comes to networking events.

Ben:  I think that’s a really good point. In my leadership journey, when I became president of the STC Rochester chapter, which is several years ago at this point, one of the things I did was look back at a prior president. He  was very outgoing, but what I did was see how gracious he was towards people who would come in that he didn’t know. He made sure that he would go out and meet them, talk to them, get to know them a little bit. So I think for me, I kind of took that as “this is my role model for how to behave in this type of situation.” It’s definitely not my comfort zone. If I were to go to another event, which was not something where I was representing the organization, my tendency is still to hang back and not get engaged with what seem like shallow conversations. If I connect with somebody and we’ve got something that’s a shared interest, we can talk for hours, given the opportunity because we’re both into it in a sense, but also just– it’s more comfortable. There’s a comfortableness with talking about a shared subject, or a shared passion or something like that. So I think that’s where–I think it’s really interesting.

Ben: What kind of advice would you have for an introvert who’s in the workplace who’s not really comfortable understanding workplace dynamics, doesn’t feel sure of themselves, dreads some of this networking-type thing and meeting behavior? What advice would you have for them?

Sara: Maybe I’ll focus on just two things right now. So one, reiterating kind of what I touched on a bunch of times, which is just practice and try it. When things are uncomfortable, the more you do them, the easier they are and that’s how it is. And some of that is, like I hinted at or mentioned before, some of that is just accepting that it’s going to be hard and that’s okay, and pre-planning how to recover and recoup from that is part of preparing and practicing to do some of these interactions. So that’s one. And then two, I would say is find a confidant, find a mentor, find someone who you can talk through these scenarios with. Find someone that you trust, that you’re comfortable with and let them know that you’re looking for a certain kind of advice, a certain type of feedback. Invite them to be really open and honest with you and ask permission ahead of time and they can be sort of a resource for you to go to talk about some of these things.

Sara: Let’s say, and we’re talking about you’re wanting feedback or guidance for how to handle things in your workplace. It can almost help to have a mentor or a feedback resource outside of your organization and someone inside the organization, because having someone inside who really get into the dynamics, can see what you’re seeing, knows the nuances of what you’re talking about–that can be really really valuable. So back when I was a manager of a team, you know, managing people, we didn’t get into that this time–which is fine–but, it doesn’t come naturally to me. But I had a great relationship with my boss and I was honest from the very beginning about what I was comfortable with and what I was uncomfortable with, and we just had an open two-way communication—open honest dialogue. I was lucky that he is someone that I knew wouldn’t judge me or criticize me for being honest. And I think when you can establish that type of rapport, it’s like a buddy system. Have someone that you can go to to help talk through it.

Ben: So, awesome! And I really like the idea of finding a mentor or somebody to be a confidant outside of the organization as well. Because that’s one thing this virtual world has given us now is the ability to establish those relationships and to support each other, which is a great thing. So as you said, there’re some things we didn’t get to this time, but I’m sure we will find a time to get to them in the future.

Ben: Thanks, Sara. This has been a great conversation. We look forward to having you join us for another podcast.


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