People often have the wrong idea about introverts.
When my daughters were young, they’d play school in my classroom as I graded papers after school. When my colleagues dropped by, my older daughter would quietly continue drawing on the whiteboard while the younger one would bound over to them, a talkative little ball of exuberant energy. One day, a teacher told me how much she liked my younger daughter, saying, “She has so much personality!”
The implication, of course, was that my older daughter had less personality. But both girls were (and are) equally vibrant and interesting. One just takes longer to get to know.
It’s like this tweet.
Brainstorming meetings are perfect examples. Extroverts say whatever comes to mind, while introverts take time to mull things over before speaking (if they get a chance).
Don’t get me wrong; I love extroverts. But it seems like the whole world does too, and there’s just not a lot of love left for introverts.
If you’re an introvert, you’ve probably heard some of these:
- “Why are you so quiet?”
- “Come out of your shell a little.”
- “You need to get out of your head.”
- “Loosen up!”
- “You should get out more.”
It’s no wonder we sometimes think something’s wrong with us.
Embrace Your Superpowers
The fact is, introverts have many strengths. We can be wonderful friends, effective leaders, and exceptional instructional designers. We just have to know how to leverage our strengths. If you’re an introvert, chances are, many (maybe all) of the following statements apply to you:
- You are intrinsically motivated.
- You pay attention to details.
- You actively listen to others when they are speaking.
- You make decisions carefully rather than being impulsive.
- You are an independent thinker.
- You consider the perspectives of others.
- You are dependable and trustworthy.
- You are a loyal friend to others.
- You can focus on a task and get it done.
- You express yourself well in writing.
As an introvert, you’re probably pretty in touch with who you are. Take some time to reflect on your individual strengths and how they make you a better instructional designer. Remember them when you feel Imposter Syndrome creeping in. Post a list of your superpowers on your bulletin board or refrigerator as a reminder that yes, you are good enough. You are incredible!
Do the Things That Are Hard for You
Now that we’ve established that introverts are pretty great, we also need to acknowledge that there are some things we just don’t like doing. But to be better instructional designers, we have to push ourselves to do those things that are hard.
Networking doesn’t come naturally for introverts, but it provides a great deal of value for us in our professional growth.
I’ve found virtual conferences to be a great way to meet other instructional designers and trainers. During TLDC’s Summer Community Day, for example, I chatted with several people who shared many free resources (included in last week’s post), sparked creative ideas for eLearning development, and broadened my perspectives about L&D in general.
I encourage you to make time for networking, whether through online groups, virtual or in-person conferences, professional organizations, or social events.
Then when the networking event is over, recover by treating yourself to a glass of wine, a good book, and a bubble bath. Or go for a quiet walk in the woods. Whatever works for you.
When I was working regularly on contracts with FEMA, I attended a few emergency management conferences to better understand the audience and topics. At one conference in Florida years ago, I reluctantly attended an evening social hour. I met a woman who had founded a nonprofit organization to help families whose lives were forever changed by the tragic events of 9/11—as her own family’s was. I was so caught up in learning about her and her work that we talked for the entire event, and I didn’t meet anyone else. But it was one of the best networking experiences I’ve had. She has hired me for several projects over the years, and, more importantly, I count her as a treasured friend.
Meetings are another experience that can be painful for introverts. But of course, they’re an essential part of what we do as L&D professionals. Meetings can be richly rewarding experiences when scheduled appropriately and facilitated in a way that includes everyone.
Even if you find a subject matter expert or client who loves to communicate via email or Slack, there is just no substitute for an actual conversation. Many nuances can get lost in translation when we rely solely on written communication.
Meetings are often essential for establishing expectations at the beginning of a project, clarifying SME feedback, and resolving misunderstandings. As a freelancer, I’ve also learned that presenting a proposal in a meeting is much more effective than sending it as an email. And if you work from home like I do, meetings can be essential for maintaining connections with your team.
If possible, schedule meetings so you have adequate breaks to recharge. Block off time on your calendar for focused work. As a freelancer, one of the best things I did to get control of my schedule (thanks to some excellent advice from Christy Tucker) was to establish certain days as meeting-free days, so I could focus on work those days. Client and SME schedules mean I can’t always protect that time, but having (mostly) uninterrupted work time is something that’s extremely valuable to me.
Share Your Work
Many introverts don’t like talking about themselves and find it awkward to try to “sell” themselves when job hunting, vying for a promotion, or marketing themselves as freelancers. This is where showing your work is really useful. Talking about one’s work is often more comfortable than talking about oneself.
If you don’t already have a portfolio, make one. If you have one, keep adding to it. Showcase the types of projects you want to do more of.
Sharing your work can take many forms besides portfolios, including videos, job aids, infographics, blogs, presentations, and recaps of learning experiences. It’s anything that shows someone else (publicly or privately) how you approached a task, solved a problem, learned from an experience, or created something.
Sharing your work has many benefits, as discussed in Jane Bozarth’s book, Show Your Work:
- Increased efficiencies
- Learning from mistakes
- Preserving institutional knowledge
- Improving public perception and awareness of work and effort
- Better customer services
- Reducing space between leaders and others
- Establishing credibility/expertise
- Raising your profile
- Improving performance
- Creating dialogue
- Getting help/saving time/not reinventing the wheel
- Replacing resume with something more meaningful
- Explaining your thinking helps you learn
- Teaching others and reflection improve practice
Finally, even though we sometimes have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, it’s important to always be ourselves. Remember your superpowers and don’t try to fit into someone else’s mold. As Shelley Brown reminded us during TLDC’s Community Day, “whatever we think our weird is, we can use it to serve other people.”
As I was writing this post, I thought about how many instructional designers I know who are introverts, and I wondered how many in the L&D field fell into that category. So I took a very unscientific LinkedIn poll. At the time of this post, here’s where the results stood:
This field seems to attract people who are introspective and like quiet work. Of course, L&D professionals must be able to work effectively in teams, collaborate with SMEs, and lead meetings. So it makes sense that many of us identify as being ambiverts.
If you’re not sure where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, you can take a test here to find out.
Wherever you land, remember that diversity is a strength, and we need a variety of personalities on every team.
- A Survival Guide for Introverts in Meetings (Article)
- How to Network: 18 Easy Networking Tips You Can Use Today (Article)
- Are You Showing Your Work? (Interview with Jane Bozarth)
- Quiet Revolution (Susan Cain’s website)
- The Freelance Introvert (Interview with Tom Albrighton)
- Activate Your Introvert (Podcast)
Here are three books I have in my personal library that I find very useful:
- The Freelance Introvert: Work the Way You Want without Changing Who You Are, by Tom Albrighton —Kindle edition on sale for $3.99 as of this writing
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
- Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-to’s of Working Out Loud, by Jane Bozarth
As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn a small amount if you choose to purchase from the above links. This doesn’t affect the price you pay and helps to support this blog.