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Introvert-Friendly Workplaces – Why They’re So Important

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces: How to Unleash Everyone’s Talent and Performance.

I was teaching a week-long leadership class for 30 engineers from different companies when I noticed that one of the participants, who I will call Sean, hadn’t been very vocal. At a break I asked him how the class was going for him. Sean hesitated and then said, “Well, Jennifer, I think the material is interesting, and I may be able to use some of it. However, I know I will never be a manager at my company.”

“Why do you sound so certain?” I asked.

“Because the managers in my workplace talk really loudly and move so fast. That’s not me,” Sean replied.

I tried to provide the usual encouraging words like “Don’t give up!” and “You have so many strengths!” but I could tell that Sean wasn’t buying my seasoned pep talk.

In my previous books, The Introverted Leader (2018), Quiet Influence (2013), and The Genius of Opposites (2015), I made the case for how introverts can own their quiet strengths and use them to achieve results and make an impact.

In that moment of talking to Sean, however, I realized that my work with introverts had to be part of a broader movement, one in which organizations also worked to harness introvert power.

How can we tap into the potential of introverts like Sean and support their working styles in our traditional extroverted workplace cultures? I believe if we don’t factor introvert strengths and personalities into how we run our organizations by creating introvert-friendly workplaces, we risk missing out on the talents and skills of millions and the huge positive impact they can have on our businesses. If introverts like Sean are continually told that they need to change who they are and to be more vocal and outgoing, they will eventually hit a wall. They will check out, taking with them their ideas, creativity, and unique perspectives. And what then becomes of our workplaces? Our cultures become less vibrant, our solutions become more homogeneous, and we lose our competitive edges.

5 Steps You Can Take to Make Your Team Meetings Introvert-Friendly

5 Steps You Can Take to Make Your Team Meetings Introvert-Friendly

One measure of an effective team is that it satisfies member needs. Along the same vein, management guru and prolific author, Patrick Lencioni has discussed the meaning of team collaboration. In his 2016 book, The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues, he wrote about the three characteristics of an ideal team player – hungry, smart, and humble. That third trait, which includes sharing credit and defining success collectively rather than individually, is one most often associated with introverts. But while introverts have a high likelihood of being “ideal team players,” it is all too common for their quiet, humble contributions to be drowned out.

Team meetings are often where that happens. Here are five approaches that work to counter that trend and bring out the valuable input from those “ideal team players.”

1. Implement a one-minute rule
This rule requires each team member to speak for one minute on a work-related topic they are focused on. One scientist we interviewed structures team meetings so everyone has a chance to contribute for the same (short) amount of time, ensuring that introverts have the same opportunity to be heard as their extroverted counterparts.

2. Pair up
Pat Wadors, chief talent officer at ServiceNow, structures team meetings to be more inclusive by pairing people up. For example, she will ask one person sitting in on the live meeting to “adopt” a remote team member who is participating virtually. They can privately check in with each other via chat or a program like Slack to see if the remote team member needs more explanation or context. The live team member can also advocate for the remote person if they want to make a comment and are having trouble interjecting their thoughts. Pat finds
this approach particularly helpful if her team is made up of people for whom English is not a first language or who are, like Pat, introverted and need more time to process information. Additionally, the buddy system helps to increase compassion and understanding among team members and build one-on-one relationships.

3. Create team member user manuals
Consider the creative technique of asking team members to write their own user manuals that help others understand how they like to work. It can include their collaboration style, ideal times of the day for group and solo work, their motivations and stressors, and their interests at and outside of work. Among my clients, user manuals seem to be a growing trend. I believe they are a great tool for introverts, who often prefer written communication, to let their needs be known to the rest of the team.

4. Consider teams of two or three
Introverts often prefer one-on-one or small-group meetings to larger ones. Instead of all-person team meetings all of the time, consider breaking your team up into smaller groups. These groups of two or three can focus on specific tasks where they can then work on their own. Encouraging these smaller groups to take walking meetings may also make it easier for your introverted team members to speak up. Walking while talking helps to get introverts out of their head and facilitates the flow of ideas as they think on their feet (literally).

5. Foster transparency
Consider using a design or system map to get both introverts and extroverts involved. According to Service Design Tools, this is a “synthetic representation that shows in one single frame all the different actors involved in a service delivery, and their mutual links (e.g. flows of materials, energy, information, money, documents, etc.).” You can hang it and allow Post-it notes to be added and moved and notes made by anyone.

Though team meetings are not everyone’s favorite pastime, when we must hold meetings let’s make sure we include everyone in the room or on the call. These approaches may be your key to higher engagement in your organization.

These and many more ideas about team meetings and leading are in my forthcoming book, Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces: How To Unleash Everyone’s Talent and Performance which you can pre-order now.

Deep Conversations; Connections So Sweet


Retreat facilitator Samantha Slade and author of Going Horizontal,
holding up a chart with some ways we can ask for help in creating soulful collaborations.

I sat there at breakfast on the last day of the Berrett-Koehler Author’s Retreat in Wisconsin wondering what felt different. As I walked to the clean-up station and emptied my dishes, it hit me. It had been a while since I had connected with people in deep conversations. These connections felt so sweet.

How did those connections play out? In one-on-one deep conversations and through creative group processes.

One-on-One Connections

The conversations with new and old friends filled me up. The breakfast discussion which involved a bit of problem solving and some storytelling left me with a smile. The process is what hit me. I wasn’t on my phone texting or trying to make sense of the last email in a confusing chain. I dove deeper, clarified my ideas, and learned from other people with a wide variety of perspectives and life experiences.

Many deep conversations continued through that weekend with people in the community.  Authors, members of the publishing team, and leaders from the BK Foundation weren’t rushed and let the talk meander and flow.

One conversation swung back and forth while sitting together on a porch swing, another flowed as two of us walked by the lake early one morning, and a few others happened in randomly placed chairs in a meeting room.  It didn’t matter where they were, although being in nature on a crisp fall weekend certainly provided a lovely backdrop. The common theme? All of these discussions went beyond small talk.

Large Group Connections 

The large group experiences also allowed for sweet connection. I have created many training designs and am sensitive to balancing structure with loose open spaces where people can connect organically. This retreat did just that, allowing for the retreat’s theme, “Soulful Collaborations” to emerge. A shoutout here to retreat design chairs Samantha Slade,  Ed Frauenheim and Tammy Pickering and their fabulous team made up of Alan Briskin and Marilee Adams. Emily Axelrod as the Author’s Co-op President shepherded everything along.

In our retreats (this was my 9th one) we use a method I love called Open Space. People offer topics that are on their mind and ask for input. They start it off by sharing their perspective or asking a question. There are no leaders. The person with the idea who convenes the group is the facilitator.

There are some simple operating guidelines like being able to get up and move to another session if you feel “complete”. Some open space sessions draw large groups and others small numbers. The amount of people who come to a particular session is not relevant. The people who need to be there seem to show up.

I convened one open space session on marketing ideas and left with my plate satisfyingly full. Another open space was facilitated by my author buddy, John Kador who took our group on a free writing journey. He started off with a writing prompt (ex. “There is a situation in the kitchen”) and timed our writing for a finite period of 3 minutes. We shared some of our pieces; laughing and tearing up together. Again, an opportunity for deep connection.

Sweet Connections

I came back from the retreat feeling renewed and connected to new friends and better acquainted with old ones. Having these soulful collaborations taught me more about myself and have helped me form new relationships going forward.

Most importantly, in the last several weeks I have made efforts to take  time for live conversation and even have called a few old friends who I have lost touch with in recent months.

Texts and Instagram posts don’t replace the sweetness of talking together. Soulful collaboration does connect us in ways that are hard to measure but are very sweet indeed.

Unplugged Discussion on Being an Introverted Leader

Introverted Leader Discussion at Outset Medical     Introverted Leader Discussion at Outset Medical

What are the challenges of being an introverted leader? That’s exactly what we discussed when I visited Outset Medical, a fast growing, pioneering medical technology company that is reimagining dialysis for patients and health care providers.

I entered the Outset offices and was greeted by my host, Jennifer Mascioli-Tudor, Vice President of Quality Assurance & Regulatory Affairs.

I immediately sensed the quiet.  There were lots of people working, but no loud voices – probably driven by the nature of their work in technology, but also by the fact that there are so many introverts in this organization (as is the case with most technology organizations).

Jennifer is an introverted leader and said she pushed herself to take a lead role in moderating our session. Jen (we both agreed we don’t identify with the name “Jenny”) was in one my leadership classes several years ago and we have stayed in touch, mostly because of her strong interest in introversion and her desire to bring the topic to her company.

The group of diverse employees gathered in their central area and we dove right in. We had a wide-ranging, open and honest discussion about being introverts in the work place. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Jennifer said that trying to interject with extroverts sometimes takes “a leap of faith.” She feels extroverts are often “brainstorming aloud” and that it is hard to keep up with the conversation when you are reflecting on one comment while they’ve gone on to the next one. We talked about using a hand gesture to signal their attention and that they usually don’t take interrupting personally.
  • Introverts sometimes smile to keep people away. The downside is that when they do this, others think they agree with an idea – even if they that is not the case. So be aware of possible mixed messages that can be transmitted if what you are expressing on your face doesn’t match what you are thinking.
  • May people could relate to the introvert’s aversion to social situations, especially when they come up at the last minute. Jennifer relayed the example of  stress of being asked at 5:00 p.m. to attend a party at 8:00 p.m. Terrifying!
  • We discussed reframing the idea of selling yourself to focusing on sharing results. Having some visibility is important and others can highlight your accomplishments as well.
  • As this company expands and hires more salespeople, the introverts will need to adjust to the extroverts. We discussed how to create Genius Opposites, those partners who achieve extraordinary results, and drew from concepts from my book. One of the ideas we discussed was “Accept the Alien.” That means you know that you will not change your opposite. And when you accept this, you are in for a lot less stress!

Outset Medical sponsors a discussion series at its company headquarters in San Jose, CA. It is called “Unplugged.” People with ideas are brought in for an informal chat with an executive, and the idea is to learn and provoke new thinking.

Here is the Unplugged interview I did following the session with Stacey Porter, VP of People Operations & Strategy, and also an introverted leader at Outset Medical, Inc.

Secrets from Leadership Speakers

Recipients of The National Speakers Association annual awards. Phillip Van Hooser, The Cavett Award, Bill Stainton, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), Carey Lorenz, CSP and Rory Vaden, CSP earned their CPAE’s, the Council of Peers Award for Excellence

Last week I spent time in Colorado near the front range of the Rocky Mountains at #Influence19, the annual conference run by the National Speakers Association. This is where professional speakers from around the world convene, learn, and laugh together.

The magic was in the design and execution… these professional leadership speakers absolutely rocked! I found I was intrigued by the process – the behind the scenes look at how these pros operate. What is it like before they walk on the stage? How do they get those books written? I took many notes and want to share a few highlights with you.

Special note: I am VP of Programs for NSA Georgia and we were able to invite a number of speakers from the conference to present here in Atlanta. Check out our organization if you, a friend, or colleague are exploring speaking or you are speaking already. You will get much, much better at the craft of speaking AND will learn terrific ways to run a successful speaking business.

Influence ’19 Leadership Speaker Gems

    • John Maxwell, one of the top leadership speakers and author has written 100 books and writes from 5:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. EVERY DAY. He doesn’t go for perfection. “It may not be my best bit, but it has to be my best shot!” said Maxwell.
    • Patricia Fripp does research on her clients like no one else I have every heard about. With one client, a tree company, she put on a hard hat and spent a day on job sites with the team. She even bought trees for her yard, just to experience the company’s customer service! Patricia (or Fripp as she is known) also said “specificity builds credibility.” Don’t say “thing.” If it weren’t a “thing” what would it be?
    • Robert Cialdini, author of mega hit Influence wants to know who he is writing for. He keeps a picture of his grandchildren next to him to keep his purpose close by. (My late Dad’s photo sits next to me and we have conversations when those writing block periods emerge). Cialdini also referenced his latest work about persuasion. “Prime people to be sympathetic to a message before they hear it.”
    • David Newman, marketing guru, said that for webinars or other services you provide, give value before you charge people. You are not giving anything away. You are just showing them your value. Would you go see a movie if the movie trailer wasn’t good? Love David’s analogies!
    • You Tube star, Jia Jiang’s“Rejection Therapy” approach encourages us to try and get rejected each day. He says we are too afraid of it and we need to get over this fear. He even has a new app you can can sign up for to help with the process!
    • Sonia Aranza, global diversity & inclusion strategist, said you can only take people as far as you have gone yourself. Do work on yourself (ex. go to a retreat) every year.
    • Sam Silverstein, an expert in creating an accountable workforce, says the power is in the debrief. When the client is happy with you, that is when you can effectively offer more services.

One special note: I was so glad to be at the Awards dinner to watch my friend and one of my speaking coaches Bill Stainton receive his CPAE! I am so proud of him and congratulations to ALL the well deserving award recipients!

There was much more, and I hope to see all my speaking friends at #Influence20!

Video: Introverts vs Extroverts

I love videos of introverts and extroverts that make me smile AND nail home points. A few years ago, I posted this amusing BuzzFeed video highlighting the differences between introverts and extroverts. I show it in some of my programs – it is a great way to bring up our differences with humor.

Do you think the I’s or E’s get a worse rap in this one? Maybe it depends through whose eyes you are watching it. I think when our traits are exaggerated they all can be very amusing (and very annoying at times).

As organizations increasingly encourage Introverted Leaders to use their Quiet Influence to step confidently into their roles, the next step awaits. How do we get introverts and extroverts – those Genius Opposites – to thrive together?

Video is a great way to get people talking. Another group I worked with used their video camera to interview random team members about their perceptions of different personality types. The video clips were shown at a company meeting and people discussed their assumptions and challenges.

So, to make your points and encourage dialogue in presentations and meetings, consider using video to get it done! 

How To Deliver Bad News in a Positive Way

Guest Post by Dianna Booher

Introverts often prefer communicating through writing. Sometimes leaders must take a position or summarize a verbal presentation over email. When this is bad news, it is not easy. But author Dianna Booher has written a book all about that: Faster Fewer Better Emails. In this guest post Dianna provides ways to communicate your message when it isn’t an easy one to convey.

Acknowledge the Facts

If the economy is free-falling, say so. If sales are sinking, say so. If the team is performing poorly, share your numbers. If your organization looks lousy beside the competition, come clean about the market feedback.

Nothing opens people’s minds and raises their estimation of your credibility like admitting the truth—and nothing decreases your credibility like ignoring the obvious or blaming, demonizing, or scapegoating others. You understand how pathetic that makes politicians look if you’ve ever heard them rationalize election results after a dramatic loss or listened to CEOs try to explain away poor earnings after failure to achieve their goals.

Small people shun responsibility. However, strong people shoulder it.

Stop Sugarcoating the Unknown and Unknowable

“Things will work—give it time!” “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine.” “It’ll all work itself out. It always does.” Such are the assurances parents give their kids. You expect them and even appreciate them—at age thirteen. But to an adult hearing such platitudes from bosses, colleagues, or friends who could not possibly know the future and how a situation will actually turn out, these remarks sound empty, if not insulting to your intelligence.

That’s not to say you can’t offer comforting words. You can and should. But to be helpful and consoling, those words should be the right words. Aim to get past the clichés and all-will-be-well platitudes to meaningful comments that encourage and give direction.

Focus on Options for the Future

In a negative situation, strong introverted leaders focus others on positive alternatives and actions with the power of their words. So, if you’re communicating about a tanking economy, the alternative may be to encourage listeners to change investment strategies for their 401K funds. If you’re communicating to comfort employees after personal property destruction because of a weather-related disaster, you could encourage them to consider rebuilding in another area. If you’re announcing a layoff––in addition to communicating compassion––you might focus on the option of new training for updated skills or offer contacts for their job search.

Structure the Message Appropriately

So, for either an email or conversation, how can you organize your bad-news message?

    1. Start on either a positive or neutral note.
    2. Elaborate on the current situation or your criteria/reasoning for making the negative decision.
    3. State the bad news (as positively as possible).
    4. Offer an alternative to meet the person’s goals, when possible.
    5. End with a goodwill statement focused on the future.

To increase your credibility in a bad-news situation, ditch a down-in-the-mouth demeanor. As an introverted leader, give helpful straight talk about the substantive issue and your words will be heard.

 

Dianna Booher’s latest books include Faster, Fewer, Better Emails, Communicate Like a Leader, What MORE Can I Say?, and Creating Personal Presence. She’s the bestselling author of 48 books, published in 61 foreign editions. Dianna helps organizations communicate clearly and leaders to expand their influence by a strong executive presence. National Media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes, have featured her work on communication. www.BooherResearch.com @DiannaBooher

Dad and His Letters: A Father’s Day Tribute

Father's Day Tribute: Dad and HIs Letters

Photo by Carrie Boretz, his daughter

I wrote this blog post a few years ago for Father’s Day, and thought I would share it with you again.

For all us who have loved and lost our fathers.

 

I was sitting on a long airplane ride yesterday with tears streaming down my cheeks. Listening to a touching Story Corps podcast episode about fathers triggered profound feelings of loss.

My dad, Alvin Boretz, died 9 years ago and Father’s Day since then has been hard. His birthday was June 15th so the two days are always entwined in my mind. We always laughed that he got a bit cheated with a combined celebration.

I can’t call him to talk through a problem, share a piece of good news, or share the kids’  (and now the grandkids’) latest exploits. The truth is, he was gone in his mind several years before he actually died. But the physical loss was so final.

I do know that I am luckier than many people. Aside from having a father who was my greatest cheerleader, I had a Dad who wrote numerous letters through his life to me and many others. I have saved over 100 of them.  He was also a screenwriter and the entirety of his work is archived at The University of Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. I have been there several times to read his many screenplays, notes, and correspondence and it is always a joy.

As I write this post, the letters sit next to me, spilling out of the folders I have placed them in, loosely organized by decade.

Dad’s essence comes through in every one. Many are filled with encouragement, humor, and hope for the future – his and ours. And Dad loved to send me advice, including clippings from the The NY Times. Every time I forward a link to a friend or colleague, I smile and thank Dad for passing on his endless curiosity and desire to help others explore their current interests. He was always on the lookout. I read the NY Times each morning and often reflect on that comforting image of my mom and dad absorbing the news.

Dad’s words helped me to navigate life from my teens through my 20’s and 30’s.Though I left  NY at 18 for college and a career,  I could always depend on these welcome gifts in my mailbox from St. Louis, to Amherst, Tallahassee, Cincinnati, and Atlanta. Other letters remain tough to read as Dad’s sadness and worry seep through the page like dark ink blots. He had a lot of tragedy in his life and his writing was an outlet for the emotions he couldn’t always express in his scripts or voice aloud. His letters didn’t escape this darkness.

After significant life events, both happy and sad, dad often made a point of writing letters. Here are a few excerpts from some of those letters. The beauty of his prose still moves me.

Excerpts from Dad’s letters

On deciding what career I should pursue:

“I have no advice….simply that your own good sense of survival and your judgment will help you to make proper decisions…none of which have to be irrevocable of course. That is important to remember. You are not committing your life…but simply starting out on a course of action which will allow you to make a livelihood and also hopefully to enjoy what you do and contribute. A most rare combination.” 

When my spouse ,Bill lost out on a job he wanted very much.

“The world is open to you. All that is required is resistance to all the injustice and madness that afflicts us all. There are few exceptions. Courage, my dear Bill. You can’t miss.”

After a  friend’s long time boyfriend broke up with her.

“You are the only one who can handle it and put a stop to your unhappiness. ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’ is a terrible cliché, but it is also an important truth. You will be busy working, functioning, living, and yes, even loving. Respect my gray hair and believe what I say. You are Kelly and that is someone wonderful.”

When Bill and I were in a serious car accident but weren’t injured:

“Sorry about the accident, but we all need a trauma like that to remind us of our vulnerability. Precisely at our zenith, we often attract the fates and that is good – for an affirmation that it is always a struggle. There is, of course, the inner struggle that all of us face and which surfaces when we least expect it. But at least it gives us a chance to handle our own destiny and to have some of the responsibility for our own lives. “

Thank you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day and Happy Birthday!!!