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The Sound of Silence

Silence.

I think the universe is giving me the high sign to be quiet. For extroverts like myself, it is too easy to talk and make conversation. But what are we missing when we fill the space with our words and do not stop to let our pauses land?

Why, for instance, when waiting in line, is it easier to chatter or pick up your phone than simply stay present and notice what is going on with you and your surroundings?

I attended a retreat in Mexico and was away from technology and deadlines. The silence was beautiful. I meditated every morning and spent time in quiet reflection. To my family’s surprise, I even attended a silent dinner.

That last activity was a surprisingly relaxing and calming interlude. It was hard to believe that it lasted 1½ hours. I ate slowly, thinking about my food and how it looked and tasted. I was simply being. I came back determined to live more in the pause.

“The truth is in the silence. People are afraid to have a silent moment. People are jumping up and giving their opinion too quickly.” These words, spoken by the late comedian Gary Shandling  are profound. In an interview with podcast host Mark Maron, he went on to say that he believed that not being silent was a defensive reaction to not going deeper.

In my research for my book, Quiet Influence I found that introverts value quiet time above all other strengths. It is the place which is the wellspring for their creativity energy and where they go to recharge.

In Krista Tippitt’s podcast, On Being, Tiffany Shlain, a web guru, described how she and her family take a technology Sabbath on Friday night and Saturdays and how it has changed all of their lives for the better. Taking a radical step like that might just be the answer to reclaiming silence.

So, what will you do to build silence and a quiet space into your hectic life? Things are not going to get less busy, so it is probably wise to figure that out now, not tomorrow.

Do You Know the Secret to Being an Ace Interviewer? Introverts Do!

Guest blog by Dean Nelson

I met author and journalism professor Dean Nelson last year at a writing workshop. I was so pleased to hear that he has incorporated many practical lessons about interviewing into his new book, Talk to Me: How to Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers, and Interview Anyone Like a Pro. We both agreed that preparation is the absolute key to ANY successful interview. So whether you have a project or a podcast, check out Dean’s tips in the guest blog post below.

There is a myth out there that the only people who can get sources to talk to them are the hard-charging extroverts, the people who exude confidence through their pores, who have no trouble walking up to strangers and getting them to say things they wouldn’t say even after the fourth waterboarding treatment.

It’s simply not true.

There are some people who see no stranger danger, but most of us are a little more reluctant. Most of us know full well that it takes a willful suspension of discomfort to interview a stranger.

One of my favorite movies is Almost Famous, which is based on a true story of Cameron Crowe’s experience of being on the road with a rock and roll band. The movie is a terrific tribute to rock, and a poignant coming of age story. But if you watch it through the prism of interviewing, it is a clinic on how to conduct interviews when you lack confidence. The main character, William, is 15. And the best way to describe him is “awkward.”

Early in the movie he gets an assignment from the Creem, the rock magazine, to interview the band Black Sabbath. But that interview doesn’t work out. It seems he wasn’t assertive enough. As he trudges away from the arena where they blew him off, another band passes him. He follows them to the stage door and tries to engage them.

“Hi, I’m a journalist. I write for Creem magazine,” he says.

This band is equally dismissive. He seems discouraged, but tries one more thing.

“Russell. Jeff. Ed. Larry,” William says, instantly gaining credibility. “I really love your band. I think the song ‘Fever Dog’ is a big step forward for you guys. I think you guys producing it yourselves, instead of Glyn Johns, was the right thing to do. And the guitar sound was incendiary.”

William gestures with a fist, says, “Way to go,” and starts to walk away.

“Well don’t stop there,” one of the musicians yells.

“Yeah, come back here! Keep going! I’m incendiary, too!”

Then the backstage door opens and they pull him in with them.

Preparation will triumph over personality every time.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you consider talking to a source, a client, a customer, a witness, or whomever else you think might be reluctant to talk to you:

  • Why do you want to talk to this person? You’d be surprised how often people don’t think about this ahead of time.
  • What do you hope will be the outcome of this conversation?
  • What can I ask this person that hasn’t already been asked many times? In other words, what will make your conversation unique?
  • How can you make this conversation appeal to the source’s self interest?

And here are some methods that will give you confidence as you enter into that conversation:

  • Before the interview, educate yourself on the topic. In the age of Google, there is no excuse to not already know a lot of the answers you’re looking for. What you want from the interview is the human voice, the insight, the complexity.
  • Put your questions in order. Know where the interview is going.
  • Ask the difficult question, even if it’s awkward. Believe me, they’re expecting it.

Doing these things won’t make you someone you’re not. They’ll make you comfortable with who you are, so that you can be authentically you.

If you’re authentic and prepared, you’ll be amazed at the access people will give you. They might even call you incendiary!

 

Dean Nelson, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, and the host of the annual Writer’s Symposium By The Sea. His new book, published by HarperCollins, is “Talk To Me: How To Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers, and Interview Anyone Like a Pro.” This essay is adapted from that book.

https://www.amazon.com/Talk-Me-Questions-Answers-Interview/dp/1982610093

See his interviews with writers at www.deannelson.net

The Hard Reality of Open Workspaces for Introverts

In the research I am doing for my book on introvert-friendly work cultures, open spaces are not getting high marks from introverts.

Although they find ways to adapt, they push against the prevailing idea that open offices are the ideal. There don’t seem to be many attempts to ask introverted employees about how to make these spaces work for them and their challenges fall into three key categories: communication, lack of privacy, and distractions.

Communication
Aside from a lower cost per foot, one stated goal of open offices is to inspire communication and collective creativity, like bees in a hive, as one author wrote. Unfortunately, the research does not always support this claim. In fact, a widely quoted research study from researchers at Harvard found that open-office layouts actually cut face-to-face conversations by 70% and that email and texting replaced these conversations. People withdrew from office mates. They also noticed losses in productivity after open office designs were implemented. The caveat is that the sample size was small.

One company told me that to combat this and encourage communication, they decided to place people in their large HR department next to each other using their last names in alphabetical order as opposed to by function or team. This backfired and the employees found that not being seated near their intact team was very inefficient and frustrating.

Lack of Privacy
Introverts value privacy. They don’t necessarily want to make small talk with extroverted office mates who stop by. Private space is also necessary for thinking. One survey by William Belk found that 58% of employees reported needing more private space for problem-solving.

Introverts like to function under the radar and with leaders of the company standing or sitting next to them, there is little room for handling issues privately without the fear of someone looking over their shoulders. One author questioned whether individuals “might be willing to take creative risks if it means everyone in the office sees their experiments or failures.”

Distractions
Time and time again, the introverts who responded to our survey emphasized how important a quiet environment is to their ability to function.

“We are in cubicles, and sound/voices travel for three to four cubicles. It is very disruptive.”
“Cube walls don’t cut it. We still hear all your extrovert conversations and lose track of what we are doing.

Introverts do not like over-stimulation from the external environment. In a busy open space organization, the physical proximity of people, noise, and light can take them off their game. Conversely, noise and light management can be an effective solution to allowing introverts that quiet they need. For example, one survey respondent found their own way of signaling with light their need for quiet time at their workplace.

“My workplace allows me to use lamps instead of the overhead lights. I don’t always use them, but my co-workers know when it’s a “lamp day” it means I’m pretty overwhelmed and they are considerate.”

How to Create Introvert-Friendly Office Spaces
In an advice column to introverts seeking jobs, the employer review website GlassDoor.com recommended they only look at workplaces where they’d have a door. Their rationale was that introverts will perform better in solitude. While this is true, building predominantly private offices is not a viable option for most companies in today’s changing workspace. And for companies, redoing their office spaces is not feasible. So, what options should introverted employees ask about when sizing up a potential workplace? And more importantly, what are some viable solutions for companies to ensure their current and future introverted employees are set up for success?

When attracting talent and planning ideal office spaces, leaders should look around their company, consider the other factors that play into effective workplace design, and ask introverts what they need to be productive. That would be a good start.

Give us your suggestions

We are still collecting data on best practices so please complete this short survey to tell us your thoughts about introvert-friendly workplaces. Thanks!

What Ever Happened to Random, Spontaneous Conversations?

The art of random, spontaneous conversation has been replaced by that phone in our pockets. We wait on line at the grocery store and out it comes.  We sit on the airport runway, heads down, engaging with our screen rather than with each other.

Yes, the world is certainly opened up to us as we connect to our friends, scan news feeds, and listen to music all while reading a novel! Learning has never been so immediately accessible. Yet, I have to ask what we miss by skipping over spontaneous conversations with strangers? I believe it is the chance to learn from others and about ourselves.

Several years ago, I turned my phone off before takeoff and my seatmate turned out to be Mike “Doc” Emrick, the chief NBC hockey announcer. He was a lovely guy and on the flight from Tampa to Atlanta, Mike revealed behind the scenes insights about the players and the amount of research and prep he did before each game. I never watched a hockey game the same way again.

In the Genius of Opposites, I shared a story related to this topic. After hearing my speech at the American Library Association on how much we can learn from having spontaneous, focused conversations, an introverted librarian named Beth wrote me. She said, “Vegas was a hard town to be in as an introvert. That night, as I hailed a cab, I was overly tired and just wanted to get to the hotel and away from the crush of people. The cabbie started talking with me, something I generally avoid, but I thought about practicing “engaged listening” and decided I would try it. It turns out, we had an amazing conversation about the Nag Hammadi codices and the educational system in Nevada.” Beth went on to say that she was grateful she took the time to listen and learn from this extroverted driver. Being open to listening and having conversations with strangers can expand your world.

According to a story on NPR, one bar owner in England wanted to bring back the art of spontaneous conversation to his pub. He took charge and “installed copper wire mesh in the bar’s ceiling and tin foil on the walls, effectively blocking cell phone signals from getting into the establishment.” And the good news? Without cell phones, the owner, Mr. Tyler says that “people love it – they are actually talking with each other.”

It is up to each of us to take back the precious spaces for random conversations to bloom. And we will never know the pathways that can open if we stay exclusively attached to the machine in our pockets.

What Can Project Managers Learn from Introverted Leaders?

This podcast planning flow chart is an example of how Velociteach
practices project management principles in everything they do! 

 

Who Are Project Managers?

I have always admired project managers (PM’s). Their organization and ability to pull together disparate projects on deadline and under budget is impressive. Often promoted from their technical homes in Engineering, Science, and Technology, they get work done!

Influencing people without having formal authority also means that project managers need to refine and sharpen their skills in communication, persuasion, and negotiation. I have found that successful Introverted leaders have learned to use their natural strengths like listening and preparation to accomplish these tasks. They have many lessons to offer PM’s who must navigate their roles up, down, and across the organization.

Partnering with PM’s 

Working with a vibrant project management training company called Velociteach, I developed a course based on the lessons learned from these introverted leaders across a wide variety of industries and organizations.

In preparation, I stopped into the Manage This podcast studio and was interviewed by Bill Yates and Andy Crowe, the executives at Velociteach. As seasoned PM’s, they opened up about the challenges and benefits of leveraging their introverted and extroverted sides. As an extrovert and introvert “Genius Opposite” pair, you will hear how they balance each other out. We also had some good laughs in our time together.

The whole staff threw themselves into the development of my new course and worked the material themselves. We had a number of stimulating conversations about how their own personality preferences served them. Jordan Demers, Media Arts Designer and one of the course developers shared her learning about embracing her own “pause” as an introvert in one of those exchanges.

What You Get from Taking the Course 

Together, we created a compact course with hard-hitting lessons and numerous practical tools.  It is called The Introverted Leader: Leading a Team In Today’s Extroverted Workplace, and it is getting strong reviews.

The good news is you will receive 4.5 PDU’s after listening and watching. There are also lots of handouts and many tools!

I believe this online program is engaging and informative. And as a member of my community, I am pleased to offer you 15% off the regular price. Just use the promo code INTROVERT15 and you are ready to go! Whether you manage projects as your full-time job or just as part of your work, I hope this course helps you gain more control over your work. I would love to hear your feedback. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Five Tips to Handle Conflict with Your Valentine

 

Vera is a newly married introverted project lead in a high tech company. Over lunch, she told me that she finds it easier to address conflict with her diverse work group than she does with her extroverted spouse.  She told me she was afraid that by tiptoeing around each other they would end up like her parents, who barely spoke and didn’t have the happiest of marriages. “Any tips?” she asked.

Experience Teaches 

I am by no means a marriage expert, but I have learned a few things from being married to my introverted husband, Bill for over 45 years. The biggest learning?  I can’t change him. He will never jump up and down when he is excited or tell me that he wants to talk about our “relationship.”  I never will sit and think too long about our disconnects but will often express them at the moment.

I and have also learned that you shouldn’t avoid conflict as your major way of operating. Stuffed feelings and fiery reactions can let off steam but lead to resentments and anger that comes out later in larger explosions.

What I Learned From Genius Opposites

I researched “genius opposites” at work, introverted and extroverted pairs who make their relationships work and who achieve results over time. Like Michelle and Barack Obama these couples complement each other and also learn how to wade through their differences, emerging on the other side stronger.

“The Death Knell to Real Collaboration is Politeness” Francis Crick, Scientist 

Extroverts and introverts are profoundly different. Extroverts get charged by being around other people. Introverts find socialization draining and regain their energy with alone time. Extroverts speak in order to think; introverts think in order to speak. These differences can drive some pairs crazy. But for those who are able to work together, their combined strengths can achieve incredible results – ones they could never get to on their own.

Successful opposites in relationships acknowledge their differences, using them to challenge each other and blast apart assumptions. They accept that decisions come with conflict and that conflict is normal, natural, and necessary. They know that disagreements open up the path to an outcome. Successful opposites get that avoiding conflict, on the other hand, creates tension and prevents them from achieving innovative and creative solutions.

Biologist Francis Crick said it well: “The death knell to real collaboration is politeness.”

We Pull Out Our Best From Each Other 

Introvert and extrovert opposites, working together, can do extraordinary things by pulling out the best thinking from each other, like blending two brains into one. But they have to be willing to “bring on the battles” for the world to benefit from the results of their genius. Valentines can do the same.

In writing  The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together  I found partners share six key strategies to work through conflict and manage disagreements. The same lessons can apply at home. As you navigate your new or old relationship with your opposite Valentine, consider these ideas.

1. Remember energy differences. 

Accept that your partner’s introverted energy may wane from too much people time, or your extroverted colleague might get too hyped up during a conflict. During conflict and stress, we exaggerate our strengths (like to talk more often and louder as an extrovert or retreat into yourself as an introvert). Resist the tendency to amplify your natural traits. Sometimes a timeout is the best workaround to help you regroup and reconvene, ready to engage with a clear head. Factor in breaks or a few moments of quiet to keep moving toward a resolution.

2. Tell ‘em what you need. 

You can set the foundation for clear communication when you bring on the battles. Let your partner know specifically what you want and what you need to avoid emotional flare-ups. If you need to find a private space to work, then tell them. Or if you need to spill out your thoughts, say so. Mind reading doesn’t work here.

3. Manage crisis together. 

When an inevitable crisis occurs, put your heads together and figure out a way through. That often means drawing on the partner in the pair who is better suited to meet the problem at hand. Figuring out the logical solution may be your strong suit, while your opponent’s strength might be going to the source and diffusing the situation.

4. Bring in a third party. 

Sometimes when you reach an impasse, no amount of discussion will work. The best action you can take is to bring in a neutral party, an objective outsider, to break through the tension and help you get unstuck and find a win-win way forward. I referred to Michelle and Barack Obama. In Michelle Obama’s book Becoming, she talks about going to marriage therapy as a young people navigating their communication and responsibilities with young children and growing careers.

5. Walk and talk.

Consider moving your conversation outside the doors of your home. Talking out their ideas helps extroverts while walking around helps them gain clarity about their positions. Introverts will respond to the relaxed pace. They also will conserve energy by not having to concentrate on making eye contact and other in-your-face listening behaviors. When you let the juices flow by getting up and moving, new ideas spring up and you will see solutions together.

The more high stakes the situation, the more important it is for opposites to bring on the battles as an outcome-focused team or couple.

Sharing knowledge about  Introvert-Extrovert differences with your Valentine isn’t a cure-all. It may not settle skirmishes over whose dishwasher loading method is best (mine, btw) but it can help you clear the static and bring you back to a flow that attracted you to your partner in the first place.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

What is Your Writing Process?

What is Your Writing Process

Journals Started It 

When I started keeping journals, I remember searching for just the right pen and perfect notebook. It wasn’t long before I realized this pursuit actually kept me from writing my first entry! So I took one of the many notebooks I had lying around, grabbed a handy ballpoint pen, and dove in. I am so grateful I did.

Over 20 years and countless notebooks later, the positive calming effects of the practice have spilled over into the rest of my life. Sometimes I write in lovely leather-bound journals, but other times a handy cocktail napkin suffices. I try to remember not to make the writing process supersede the act itself.

Famous Writers Are All Over the Map 

When writers are interviewed, one question you can always count on is “What is your writing process?” Their answers are all over the map. Novelist Alice Hoffman curls up on her couch but can write just about anywhere. Non-fiction author Jeffrey Toobin disciplines himself to write 2500 words each day and often starts writing before he has completed his research. Novelist, journalist, and illustrator Christopher Noxon grabs precious moments in between carpool pickups. Stephen King writes in the morning, reserving afternoons for “Red Sox games…..”

Lessons From Dad 

I was aware of this writing process question as a young girl. My Dad, Alvin Boretz was a screenwriter, and I vividly remember going to sleep to the sound of clacking typewriter keys from the converted closet of my parent’s bedroom. He reserved his days for research trips to the library, diving into his latest passion (Irish playwrights, navigation by the stars, travel, etc.), riding his bike around the streets of our Long Island home and being there for my sister and me with made-to-order milkshakes.

Fortunately, Dad was a fast writer and wrote well with deadlines. Stories, dialogues, and characters lived in is his head, but he sometimes needed gentle nudges to transfer them to the page. When a script was due, his “coach in residence” (my mom, Lucille) knew he could become easily distracted. When mom heard Dad talking on the phone, kidding around with my sister and me, or napping a little too long, she would call upstairs with an emphatic  “Get to work, Alvin!” That verbal cue was usually all he needed. Dad always sent his scripts in on time.

I have been a productive writer. I have written 4 books in 8 years, with another one on the way. Still, it doesn’t get any easier. So, I continue to seek out different writing routines. Would it be better to force me to write with a timer? Should I take a cabin in the woods? Is listening to Mozart or Mendelson more conducive to eliciting that elusive phrase?

I don’t want the process to become the end itself. That only keeps me from writing. It is about the blank screen and diving in. So I think I will use a version of mom’s mantra (along with my phone’s timer) to continue working on that next book. “Get to work, Jennifer!” serves me for right now.

Lessons from Introvert Island: The Power of Quiet

The beach at Spring Bay, British Virgin Gorda. Photo taken by Adam Goldberg https://agoldbergphoto.com/

 

I recently returned to the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. It’s been a year since Hurricane Irma reaped its devastation, leaving 95% of the quiet island’s residents homeless and without power for weeks. 

Rising from this storm, came numerous stories of resilience and inspiration. Neighbors helped neighbors. Private individuals stepped up and volunteered with donations of food, supplies, and funds to help the island get on its feet again. People created new jobs for themselves. Out of the “mash up” as they called it, folks are slowly getting their footing. You hear the sounds of buzz saws and drills everywhere. And there was great applause as one small guest house was finished hours before the guests arrived. 

The post-traumatic stress of this event impacted everyone, but slowly tourism is returning and houses are being built. We loved visiting with our friends on the island who we have known for over 35 years. They smiled, but keep working together to rebuild.

I wrote the post below 2 years ago, but the lessons about quiet and calm are even more relevant to me in the shadow and aftermath of Irma. 

Calling Mom 

As I sat on a beach in the British Virgin Islands, I called my 96-year-old mom, Lucille. It was snowing in NYC and I wanted to make sure she was safe and sound in her apartment. After assuring me that I “shouldn’t worry,” I held the phone up to the sound of the gentle waves and described the bright blue sky to her. Mom had been to that same place 30 years before and she described snorkeling from that same beach. The fish were beautiful, she said. I told her she could still visit that place anytime she wants to by closing her eyes and imagining the quiet, serene scene of warmth and sunlight. I want to follow my own advice.

Introverts Know How To Get Quiet 

One of the many strengths of introverts is that they are able to get quiet and engage in an active inner life. One way to do that is through guided imagery. WEB MD says, “You can achieve a relaxed state when you imagine all the details of a safe, comfortable place, such as a beach or a garden. This relaxed state may aid healing, learning, creativity, and performance. It may help you feel more in control of your emotions and thought processes, which may improve your attitude, health, and sense of well-being.”

Introverts Can Be Alone 

Introverts relish being alone. Stepping away from phones, the news, and the busyness of life allowed me to step into my introverted side and be present. I noticed the changing weather, the sounds of roosters, the soft breezes, the far away airplane engine, and even a barracuda’s sleek lines as we passed each other under water.

Early one morning I walked to a nearby beach. I sat down and leaned against a large boulder. Except for the crashing waves and my footprints in the deep, wet sand I was totally alone. It was exhilarating and so rare an experience in today’s world.

Return to the Island 

Thanks to the brain’s ability to take me back, I will conjure up that scene when I start to feel overwhelmed or anxious. I believe it will become easier the more I do it. I can return to the island and regain the power of quiet. Guided imagery is a gift we all have access to any time, in any place.