In my second year of University, I joined a supper club in order to try to meet some new people. I joined mid-year, so by then all the table groups had formed, and the only space left was at a table of people who hadn’t really jelled into a talkative group. There were long painful silences each night. One of my dorm-mates sat at one of the other tables, and although he often dominated the conversation, he also managed to keep it lively, eagerly seeking out participation by everyone at the table. Eager to have more fun at my table, I quietly observed his methods in the hopes of trying to learn how he did it. I realised a lot of what he said was crap, really, but his running banter provided something for others to respond to. And by drawing in others by calling out their names, people joined in eagerly, keeping the conversations lively, once he provided a starting point.
As an introvert, the idea of trying to start a conversation at a table full of very quiet people seemed impossibly difficult, but on the other hand, sitting at a table night after night with a group of people who didn’t talk was pretty miserable too. So, one night I plucked up my courage and told a story about something funny that had happened in one of my classes. I can’t remember what it was about, but everyone listened and I think someone laughed. So I told another story, and asked questions to the group by addressing a couple of individuals by name, and eventually the group was talking, albeit a bit awkwardly. But there was also a sense of relief around the table, that not only was someone making the effort to have a conversation, but that maybe there was a way out of the endless quiet.
Before I went to dinner the next night, I thought of a couple more stories I could tell, and I did that on my way to dinner each subsequent night. And each night at dinner, I told another story, and soon someone else joined in, and because I do like a good laugh and generally am not shy about laughing out loud, our table got a bit louder, and slowly over a period of a week or so, our discussions became more fluid and it wasn’t always me who started the conversation. It turns out of course that there were some really interesting people at the table who had just needed someone to start the conversation, and take up the responsibility to make sure there was a topic or catalyst each night.
Eventually, we had our own fun table gang that I looked forward to spending time with each evening. I felt really proud when my talkative friend from the dorm eventually came and sat at our table, as clearly we were having a whole heap of fun that he didn’t want to miss. And his moving to our table actually precipitated a lot of other people moving around the table groups and mixing things up every night, because it had become clear there were a lot of really interesting people at all the tables and we all wanted the opportunity to spend time with each other. Which was the point of the supper club to begin with; they had just gotten stuck in the table group rut.
So I want to encourage you to remember that sometimes it is worth the temporary discomfort of pushing yourself out there a little bit, especially when the rewards can be so huge. My efforts could have flopped if no one laughed or engaged in conversation at my table, but since we were all there to meet people, the risk to me was pretty low, and the alternative to do nothing was pretty bleak. And the result was really amazing! We ended up not only gaining a whole group of people to enjoy who had been unengaged, but we also ended up changing the way the supper club was organised so that each member got more access to everyone else, and with a lot more fun on the way.
Never underestimate the power of your introverted skills to quietly create change in your organisation for the better, for everyone.
A few resources for Introverts...
The science explaining the differences between introverts and extroverts
Just say Dopamine or acetylcholine. Here is the link to the article:
The power of quiet selling
Using your introvert strengths to excel at selling, something we all need to do at some time for something, even if it is *only* the benefits of a specific holiday booking to our partner!
Leading as an Introvert
How to turn your strengths as an introvert into leadership strengths:
For more resources for and about introverts, please take a look at a few of my recent blog posts and the resources section of my website.
Fun Friday Workplaces