“Everyone in the Room Isn’t Looking at You, Unless You Are Jennifer Aniston or Charlie Sheen.”

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jane3 666x1024 Everyone in the Room Isnt Looking at You, Unless You Are Jennifer Aniston or Charlie Sheen.

This honest and funny guest post was written by Jane London, co-host of the Dom and Jane Show on Mix 100 in Denver — www.mix100.com. Jane also writes  a blog, Present Tense: www.janelondon.wordpress.com:

I am an introvert.  According to Myers-Briggs testing, an INTJ.  I’ve also been a morning radio host for over 25 years.  In order to thrive, I’ve had to master the art of faking extroversion. I was so shy as a kid that my mom pulled me out of kindergarten for a year.  Early in my radio career my boss sent me to a Dale Carnegie course, hoping it would remedy my obvious discomfort during public appearances.

I’ve often described myself as ‘socially retarded’ and yet, the majority of my friends and co-workers look at me in utter disbelief when I tell them that I’m shy and introverted.  I’m a very good faker.

I began college as an English major, morphed into journalism and ended up reading the news on the college radio station.  I was a reporter who hated talking to sources, but loved the solitude of the broadcast booth.  Like most of my fellow introverts, I have plenty to say, but I prefer to say it via the written word or to a select few friends and co-workers.  That’s the beauty of radio; just a few of us in a room, talking to each other with a microphone.  Easy, right?

I love my job, but I dread public appearances.  Over the years, I’ve made it clear to my co-workers and supervisors that I can work a crowd for no more than two hours.  I know my limits and I strictly enforce them for my benefit and the benefit of the radio station.

So, I’ve developed some tactics to help me through these uncomfortable situations.  They’re apparently quite effective, since only my family and my therapist know the real, shy, introverted me.

1. There is no such thing as “small talk“.  Here’s a shocker for you: NOBODY likes “small talk”, which is why the rest of the world refers to it as “conversation”.  When you label face to face communication with another human being as “small”, it automatically makes it seem shallow or useless, when it’s not.  I’ve read some of the comments on Susan’s posts introverts who long for deep, meaningful conversations.  Really?  Then, you have to engage in the foreplay of lesser subjects and maybe once in a while, you’ll find yourself in the middle of one of those deep conversations.  In the meantime, listen and ask questions, based on the person in front of you.  Going into a gathering with some pre-determined “small talk topics” is silly and kind of insulting.  Everyone has something interesting to say, if you give them a chance.  I know, you’re thinking that they’re judging YOU as boring, because you’re shy and not much of a talker.  Trust me, I’ve been there a thousand times.  I’m still amazed that people want to meet me just because I’m on the radio, but they do and I’ve learned to be gracious and find time to chat with them.  If you’re not a talker, be a listener for a few minutes and then move on to the buffet.

2.  Know your limits.  As I mentioned, I have a two hour shelf-life as a phony extrovert and I plan accordingly.  My husband and I have a reputation for being the first to leave parties; I own it and joke about it.  I’m okay with getting out of my comfort zone, but only for a short time.  Don’t beat yourself up about it.  Accept it, laugh about it and plan for it.

3.  Some people are irritating and insufferable.  We all have to deal with them.  Don’t freak out, just avoid them if you want to.  If they corner you, smile and nod for a few minutes and then tell them you have to pee.  It’s worked for me hundreds of times; of course I’m rather blunt and socially inept, so you might be more comfortable with a different excuse.

4.  Everyone in the room isn’t looking at you, unless you are Jennifer Aniston or Charlie Sheen. Slip out for a few minutes and grab some alone time.  I find that if I leave a crowd for 5 or 10 minutes, it calms me and sometimes, re-charges me.

5.  Attach yourself to an extrovert.  My oldest and closest friends can talk to anybody, anytime, anywhere.  I’ve ridden their coat-tails for years and in doing so, have picked up a few pointers for my fake extrovert tool box.  They smile, they compliment, they ask questions, they joke.  Extroverts aren’t shallow or stupid or phony;  I reject those claims by my introverted brethren.  Jackasses come in every variety and just because one big-mouthed, glad-hander made you miserable in high school, it shouldn’t color your perceptions for the rest of your life.

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--What do you think of Jane’s advice?

 


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33 Comments

  1. Lisette on 17.05.2011 at 17:46 (Reply)

    Loved it. – Another INTJ who has learned a lot about faking extroversion (and even had some fun doing it!)

  2. Danielle on 17.05.2011 at 18:43 (Reply)

    Dear Susan:

    I enjoyed Jane’s guest post. Great to know that she too is a Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Graduate. Although they teach public speaking skills, they don’t change your personality. If you’ve never seen Jeremy Wade on his River Monster Fish TV program and you’ve never held a fishing pole in your life and can’t stand talking about fishing and he is the invited guest you have to squire around the room for the evening, no amount of Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Courses are going to prepare you to talk fish for a whole evening. And yes, I do enjoy Jeremy Wade’s TV Show:).

    As for daily verbal foreplay of office platitudes and backstabbing 5 days a week, sorry, I just don’t have the patience. And unfortunately, that is exactly what was expected of me at a former employer’s office. Unlike Jane, I did not have the leasure to take a break from being a “pretend” extrovert. I was expected to become a full-time extrovert in short order and flash a “Toothpaste Commercial” smile five days a week, or else. Refusing to be forced into being someone that I was not, I gave my resignation a week later, out of respect for myself. Being forced to act like an extrovert five days a week from 9 to 5 is the kind of “conformity” I refuse to have shoved down my throat sideways. I refuse to be around extroverts who have no respect for introverts and who think there is something wrong with them and who believe there is only one way to be – extroverted.

    There is enough space on the face of this earth for both parties. I have a right to be who I am and to take my rightful place in this world without going through life twisting myself into a pretzel to become someone I am not and don’t care to be. I deserve the same amount of respect that extroverts deserve. No more, but certainly no less.

  3. Luna on 17.05.2011 at 20:13 (Reply)

    Maybe I’m off base here but I don’t think the extroverts who “think there is something wrong” have no respect for introverts I just don’t think they get it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told to just “go to that party, it’ll do you so much good to get out of the house,” or “come to the club you’ll be happy you did once you get there.” They fail to notice how blissfully happy I am tucked away in my secluded home with my pets, books and wildlife. But about Jane; good article, good advice. I have been to parties with wonderfully entertaining extroverts who I have loved listening to and breathtaking bores who have chased me around the room droning on about how well travelled or whatever they are. Having an innie strategy is truly necessary. My husband and I can last about 2 hours maybe three at parties if we are with fellow innies then we usually flee to a cafe somewhere and chill out. I can also be a faux extrovert but if I do it for too long I get really rattled. I tend to spread out my social obligations! I must admit I am dreading a few dates this summer, I know I sound terrible but I have to attend my least favourite social events…weddings (I eloped, all those people brrr..) and showers sigh I would really like to know what extroverted God of cruelty conceived of showers?

  4. Judy on 17.05.2011 at 22:14 (Reply)

    Thank you Susan and Jane! I find relief in reading about fellow introverts who fake extroversion in order to thrive. It’s exhausting for sure! I must be an excellent faker as well – many people are also surprised when I disclose my true identity (INFP)

    I also find radio a natural fit (I do music programming for community radio). I find that communicating and connecting through music, as well as writing is MUCH easier than conversation. I do my best “faking” when giving brief presentations, being a stage announcer at a concert, or performing in theater. Perhaps it is the adrenaline rush of busting through that wall of fear – but I find those things almost enjoyable :) I agree with knowing your limits. I have a history of forcing myself into career paths that were so off-base (sales, high-pressure fundraising) that I found myself perpetually exhausted and also feeling like a chronic under-achiever, when in reality, I was in denial of my true strengths.

    Thank you Jane, for the tips. As I look for new career opportunities that are a better fit, I will refer back to your post, and this wonderful blog. Perhaps I should aim for radio as a career – rather than an extra-curricular activity!

  5. Patricia on 18.05.2011 at 00:18 (Reply)

    I enjoyed her advice and have done many of these things along the way. Lately I have been very acting extroverted in public…to try to get seen as I job hunt or having joined a new book group. I am still hard pressed to make myself leave the house and so relieved when it is time to come home. Most of my family are introverts so I have taken on the role of being the extrovert and talking for everyone.
    Today at book group I did not know I was to bring a gratitude story to share…I missed a huge part of what others shared dragging my brain to find something to say at my turn. Then I seems bumbling to me? Before I go to a gathering or party…I like to make a note card up of 10 questions I can ask to break the ice and get them talking about themselves…the comfort of ahead of time prep is as good as dear old blankie!

    Thank you for the introduction

  6. ASuburbanLife on 18.05.2011 at 01:12 (Reply)

    I love this post! I’m also an INTJ but because I can appear fairly comfortable delivering presentations, people often tell me I must be an extrovert. Presenting is acting; it’s the small talk, the conversation with people I don’t know that is so difficult. Great tips here!

    1. Susan Cain on 18.05.2011 at 22:19 (Reply)

      This is purely anecdotal observation, nothing scientific, but I have noticed that introverted “T’s” seem to be much less self-conscious about public speaking and leadership roles than introverted “F’s” — does this ring true to anyone?

  7. jim on 18.05.2011 at 08:24 (Reply)

    I’m an introvert (INFP) and a former radio DJ. Being introverted doesn’t mean one has little to say; it’s just that saying it to a crowd is draining! I loved being on the radio because it was always me, alone, in a big room talking to one person, who was represented by a big Electro-Voice microphone. I could talk all afternoon that way and leave the studio no worse for the wear!

  8. Mark on 18.05.2011 at 09:06 (Reply)

    Great post — as usual

    WRT #2), everyone in my neighborhood knows I’ll be the first to leave our monthly get togethers, followed in tandem w #4) or I may well be sitting outside in the dark. Although my wife can sit and kibitz for hours, she knows that is not my style and the folks we tend to run w are AOK with it. We each answer to ourselves, which is where truth to yourself begins.

    1. Susan Cain on 18.05.2011 at 22:21 (Reply)

      I have a friend like you. She attends every gathering, very graciously and warmly, and leaves every one early. I have tried to learn from her! I always feel guilty about saying goodbye before everyone else.

  9. kandis on 18.05.2011 at 13:13 (Reply)

    I have great respect for the introvert and wish to high heaven that I were MORE introverted. I am the over the top, can’t keep my mouth shut, sing out loud at the store, make friends in an empty room extrovert. It’s almost an illness I think. If I could just bottle the silence of my introverted friends I might consider myself ‘normal’. I’m that annoying person who will come talk to you as you stand peacefully in your own corner of the room. I think you’re lonely when you’re not. I talk small talk and find out all about you and your family while the entire time you WISH I would go away. I’ll take this to heart and let you be….no really…I promise:)

    1. Susan Cain on 18.05.2011 at 22:22 (Reply)

      Thx, Kandis, for being so honest. I think yours is a very refreshing perspective.

  10. Christy on 18.05.2011 at 14:55 (Reply)

    Quite a fascinating article. My thoughts on some of her points:

    1. There is a certain kind of conversation that is unutterably and agonizingly boring to me among many introverts. Whatever you chose to label it, “conversation” or “small talk” or “Fred,” it is boring. There’s no getting around that simple fact.

    5.”Extroverts aren’t shallow or stupid or phony; I reject those claims by my introverted brethren.” This is the best sentence in the whole thing. Introverted people who label the other half of the population in one broad stroke are probably operating on equal parts ignorance and pain, both blind to the true depth in all people and wanting only to attack as they have been attacked.

    Finally, I find introverts who pretend to be extraverted to be perplexing and interesting. I refuse to pretend to be something I’m not. I’ll be cheerful and polite, because I believe other people deserve that from me, but I won’t be a phony extravert. I will be who I am, and if that’s not good enough for whoever I may be talking to, then so be it. I don’t mind.

    1. Susan Cain on 18.05.2011 at 22:24 (Reply)

      “Introverted people who label the other half of the population in one broad stroke are probably operating on equal parts ignorance and pain, both blind to the true depth in all people and wanting only to attack as they have been attacked.”

      –This is brilliant and sensitive and a very important point, I do believe. Thanks, Christy.

    2. Susan Cain on 18.05.2011 at 22:34 (Reply)

      P.S. For a minute, I forgot that you were a writer, and I thought, “Christy should really be a writer.”

      1. Christy on 22.05.2011 at 18:42 (Reply)

        Ha! Thanks, Susan!

    3. Jane London on 19.05.2011 at 06:42 (Reply)

      Christy:
      Thanks for the kind words about my post. The whole ‘faking extroversion’ thing is a bit of an exaggeration. I do believe that most of us naturally fall somewhere between extreme introversion and extreme extroversion; in fact, I find that I move up and down the spectrum, based on who I’m with and how I feel about myself in that particular moment. Having said that, depending on your personal or career choices, most of us do have to climb out of ourselves on occasion in order to navigate living on earth:)
      Jane

      1. Poppy on 20.05.2011 at 11:23 (Reply)

        I do believe that most of us naturally fall somewhere between extreme introversion and extreme extroversion; in fact, I find that I move up and down the spectrum, based on who I’m with and how I feel about myself in that particular moment.

        Indeed, extraversion – introversion is a spectrum, a scale. I suspect that similarly to the way we have a “baseline” temperature and a “baseline” weight that our bodies maintain in equilibrium, we probably each have a “baseline” extra/introversion somewhere on that spectrum.

        And what made me want to comment on this is that I think that while Jane’s advice certainly seems to work well for her, what it says to me is that her “baseline” is more moderate than mine. I think her advice probably resonates with some people, but not with others, and I’m not sure if the difference is the baseline level of introversion or if it’s an IF or IT difference (Feeling vs. Thinking)

    4. Poppy on 20.05.2011 at 11:35 (Reply)

      1. There is a certain kind of conversation that is unutterably and agonizingly boring to me among many introverts. Whatever you chose to label it, “conversation” or “small talk” or “Fred,” it is boring. There’s no getting around that simple fact.

      *laugh* Yes. This. Thank you Christy :)

      This piece of advice – to suck it up and deal with the fact that “small talk” is what half the world thinks is conversation – sounds to me like it’s still saying that introverts should change to fit the world instead of expecting the world to meet us halfway.

      Nearly all of the common conversation starters – sports, tv shows, celebrities – are things which I don’t even have enough interest in to spend valuable time reading headlines so as to have enough information for small talk. In fact, I actively object to the amount of popularity given to sports teams and celebrities, so I don’t want to encourage the media to continue covering them by adding my attention.

      1. Christy on 22.05.2011 at 18:41 (Reply)

        “Nearly all of the common conversation starters – sports, tv shows, celebrities – are things which I don’t even have enough interest in to spend valuable time reading headlines so as to have enough information for small talk.”
        This is why I find going to classes and conferences and Bible studies so enjoyable. The average conversation that arises out of the context has something to do with the context, and so it’s enjoyable. It’s not, “Hi, my name is Christy.” [Dead silence] It’s, “What did you think about what Fred said about Drupal earlier?” or “That essay on Anselm’s theology was difficult, wasn’t it? How did you approach it?” or such. I love that.

        1. Jeff T on 15.09.2012 at 15:20 (Reply)

          As a journalism student, I learned the one essential interview question: “Tell me about …” Variations of that work in most social settings. And since people are fascinating (one on one), I can have a great time.

  11. AD on 18.05.2011 at 16:25 (Reply)

    I love Jane’s candid approach to managing the challenges of being an introvert in social situations, thanks for sharing! I have noticed that I have an “expiration” time at big events but, foolishly, never thought to just put an end time in my mind and truck out of there! I guess I feel that I need to push myself to be as social as I can (darn that societal pressure to be outgoing!) but I don’t think I’m gaining anything by waiting until I feel like chopped liver to leave the party. Next time, I’ll leave before I reach that point!

    1. Jane London on 19.05.2011 at 06:50 (Reply)

      Trust me, it’s a life and psyche saver. I’m sure that you’re like me; you can feel your energy draining right out of your body. If I’m with friends or family, I’m great for quite a while, but with a large crowd or people I don’t know,it’s two hours MAX!
      So, listen to yourself next time you’re out and about and you’ll feel your own expiration time creeping up.
      Thanks for the kind words and for reading my post. Much appreciated!
      Jane

  12. Brittany on 18.05.2011 at 21:08 (Reply)

    I liked the post, very interesting and helpful! #3 made me laugh where you said if you get stuck with an irritating person, smile and nod for a few minutes and then say you have to go pee! I should do that more often, I’ve come into a couple of situations like that where I’m stuck in a conversation that I don’t want to be in and don’t know how to escape. I liked #1 too, I’ve never thought of “small talk” that way. Thanks for sharing! :)

  13. Danielle on 19.05.2011 at 10:44 (Reply)

    I’m starting to understand why the new 2007 and 2010 versions of Word and Excel are rattling my nerves. Both their contents have doubled and then some. There is so much material to read just to learn how to use it that it feels like having a long-winded marathon conversation with an extroverted computer.

    Am I the only one to feel this way?

    1. SG on 20.05.2011 at 09:25 (Reply)

      Yes, yes and YES! I thought I was the only one who felt trapped in terminal TMI mode with the updated versions of these programs.

  14. kt moxie on 19.05.2011 at 13:21 (Reply)

    Beautiful post and great advice. I’m an introvert that no one believes is one because I’m such a leader and go-getter. I’m also married to a mega-extrovert, and I ride his coat tails a lot in social situations. I also have learned that it’s OK to let him go out on his own when I’ve just been drained and want to stay in.

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  16. Elena on 22.05.2011 at 07:51 (Reply)

    “My husband and I have a reputation for being the first to leave parties; I own it and joke about it.”

    I really like that. If I felt more comfortable leaving early, I’d go to gatherings more often in the first place!

  17. Julie on 22.05.2011 at 14:00 (Reply)

    This blog often seems to conflate shyness and fear of public speaking with introversion. They’re not the same thing. Most of us, as we become adults with jobs and responsibilities, learn how to talk to other people and even speak in public with no more fear than a lot of extroverts have. I always skip the posts on public speaking on this site, because I don’t really need the help, and I don’t understand why it’s assumed I do.

    Besides, I feel like “shyness” and “afraid of public speaking” are qualities extroverts can probably understand. Actual introversion, where you get along fine with others but prefer not to do it for long periods of time, is harder for extroverts to understand and needs to be explored and explained on its own terms, not be combined or conflated with other qualities.

  18. kiwimusume on 22.09.2012 at 21:31 (Reply)

    I was surprised to find out that a lot of other introverts prefer deep and meaningful conversation, because I’m the opposite. If the conversation turns to things like world issues, especially at parties, I worry that they’ll think my opinion is stupid. I definitely sympathise with Bridget Jones on that front.

    “a few pointers for my fake extrovert tool box. They smile, they compliment, they ask questions, they joke.”

    I don’t think those things and introversion are mutually exclusive. Shyness or reaching the end of your social shelf life can shut them down, but, I mean, your natural state probably isn’t frowning, joyless and uninterested in others, is it? Mine isn’t, and neither is that of the many other introverts I’m friends with. I think the problem for most of us isn’t that we can’t smile, compliment, ask questions or joke, it’s that we feel too uncomfortable or worn out to do so in certain situations. I actually find viewing these things as practices owned solely by extroverts to be counterproductive, and insulting too.

    “just because one big-mouthed, glad-hander made you miserable in high school, it shouldn’t color your perceptions for the rest of your life.”

    I totally agree that bashing all extroverts isn’t the answer to introvert shaming any more than bashing all skinny people is the answer to weight shaming (which you also see a lot – even Cosmopolitan magazine apparently fell into that trap before being called out by naturally skinny people who had never demeaned someone for their weight in their life.) I’d like to point out, though, that introvert shaming is not limited to teenage classmates (and teenage classmates alone can do untold amounts of damage – look at the epidemic of suicides caused by bullying.) It can be guidance counsellors telling you and/or your parents that your eating lunch alone means that there is something wrong with you (I was accused of being a potential school shooter as was one of my friends, and two other friends’ guidance counsellors tried to “fix” them.) It can be parents trying to get rid of that part of your personality (and just because it’s done with good intentions doesn’t mean the effect on how you feel about yourself is any different.) It can be supervisors telling you that if you don’t teach your classes with the volume cranked up to eleven, your students will not enjoy your subject or learn anything, even though the most popular teacher of a similar subject at your own school was an introvert who played to her own strengths. It can be a million casual comments telling you that extroverts are right and you are wrong. And yes, if introverts blame all extroverts for that, we’re no better than the extroverts who think all introverts are future killers, but I felt like that line trivialised what we deal with. I’ve experienced all of the above things AND eight years of bullying, and believe me, it’s no trivial matter.

  19. kiwimusume on 23.09.2012 at 02:19 (Reply)

    Also, for any introverts struggling with #3, it’s not just us. I hear complaints about it from a lot of extroverts too.

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