As introverts know all too well, the holidays can be a challenging time of year. All the parties and gatherings that make this season so enjoyable for some people make it stressful for others, particularly for those of us who find large crowds exhausting, rather than energizing.
Still, if youíre a business owner, you canít afford to be a no-show at holiday functions. Parties are good networking opportunities, and your presence helps make your business more visible. So you grit your teeth and go, all the while envying your extroverted peers who always manage to be the life of the party, the ones who bounce easily from telling jokes to making small talk to delivering great introductions.
Attention, introverts: itís time to change your viewpoint and turn your perceived liability into an advantage.
First, letís talk about what being introverted means. In an article titled "When Introverts Should Avoid Coffee," author Melissa Dahl shares research suggesting that introverts have more than the optimal level of neocortical arousal in their brains. That means an introvertís performance will be negatively affected by a stimulating situation Ė such as a noisy, crowded holiday party Ė because it pushes them even further beyond the optimal arousal level.
In her book The Introvertís Way, Sophia Dembling offers a wealth of ideas for how to make social gatherings easier for those of us who would rather be home with a cup of tea and a good book. Yes, itís possible to attend social events and create those important connections, while still taking care of yourself and not trying to be someone youíre not. Here are eight tactics that may work for you this holiday season:
* Know thyself. Just because Iím an introvert doesnít mean I donít crave connections and conversations. However, I prefer them one-on-one and spread out over time. I donít want to be "on" every minute of every day. So, after a few consecutive days of social events, I need to withdraw and recharge. Figure out your own needs for solitude vs. human interaction. Follow a day of being "out there" with a day of quiet work at your desk. When you respect your limits and manage your energy, youíll enjoy socializing more and make a stronger impact when you do.
* Recognize what you bring to the party. Maybe you donít provide the eveningís entertainment, but when you allow others to hold the floor, you give the gift of an appreciative audience. Introverts are great listeners. People love to talk about themselves, and when you grant them this opportunity, theyíll perceive you as friendly and approachable.
* Create a plan before you go. Prepare some astute questions to ask people (see Experts Share 5 Networking Tips for Business Owners). Go beyond standard topics like "Who do you know here?" and "Howís your year going?" What and why questions are particularly useful (Why did you get into this field? What are you most proud of accomplishing this year?) Again, step aside and let the other person shine.
* Take a breather from the action. My daughter, Anna (who, like her mother, is an introvert) excuses herself to go to the bathroom when she needs to regroup and re-energize. Another way to take a break is to turn your back on the party and peruse a bookshelf. You might even be inspired to bring a title into your next conversation. You can also go outside Ė is there a porch where you can catch a breath of fresh air? Or make a pet connection. Petting a dog relieves your need to talk for a few minutes, and interaction with animals has been shown to reduce stress. (But good luck finding a cat to hang out with: they tend to be introverts, too!)
* Figure out where to stand. While you may prefer to position yourself in an out-of-the-way corner, it may be better to stand in the flow of traffic where people will walk by. That way you can smile, extend your hand, and introduce yourself without expending energy in seeking people out. I tried this last week and it worked great: no more wandering around figuring out how to interrupt conversations. People came to me instead (and I met a new client!). When youíve had enough, go back to #4.
* Change your ideas about small talk. Think all conversation has to be fascinating? It doesnít. Sometimes itís just about making a friendly connection. In The Introvertís Way, Dembling reminds us that itís not the content of a discussion; itís the action itself. Let a conversation be what it is. Smile and respond.
* Be selective. Not all parties are created equal. Attend the ones with the biggest potential payoff. Do a cost-benefit analysis and choose quality over quantity. Think of the social event as a job, and create a project plan. Target a few people you want to connect with, slap a back or two, and then go home. You donít have to stay until all the champagneís gone.
* Wow Ďem with a follow-up. Be sure to send the host and other people you connected with an email, or better yet, a handwritten note, the next day. The follow-up is a very effective way for an introvert to set herself apart from the crowd. Even if you donít think you made a powerful impression at the event, you can gain points afterward by taking a minute to write a card. Trust me: it will stand out!