Common Sense Services

Look after your introverts this Christmas

At the beginning of December, I visited a client site to deliver a workshop. I was in one room of their training suite. The rest of the training suite – about 3 or 4 other rooms – had been taken over for the day by a large sales team for their end of year sales meeting and celebration.

They looked like a jolly crowd. There were Christmas jumpers, reindeer antlers, jingly bells, carols and songs and lots of board games dotted around. Clearly, they were taking the opportunity to get to know each other better and have a laugh alongside the more formal business of reviewing targets and making plans for next year. It was noisy, good natured and all very festive.

Gentle reader, the sight and sounds brought back to me some of the lowest points of my corporate career. Feelings of hopelessness, defectiveness and a desire to escape.

You see … speak it softly … I am an introvert.

Yes, I confess that I am an introvert who stands up and talks in public for her living, but nevertheless at my heart and core I don’t really “do” people. Not big groups of them, not all at once.

And as I moved in and out of my training room that day I began to be aware of little pockets of bleak stillness. People not wearing antlers or elf hats, lingering at the edges of the merry gatherings. I remembered feeling out of place, longing to get away but compelled to stay, embarrassed that I couldn’t “join in”, a bit resentful at the well meant but unhelpful comments of “Cheer up!” or “That isn’t a festive face is it?”  or “Don’t you want us to have a good time?”  “Yes!” I wanted to shout back “I do want you to have a good time. But I’d rather be somewhere else when you are doing it.”

Now, I am not suggesting that we should ban team get togethers. Nor that elf hats are totally inappropriate in a professional context outside of Lapland. But I would just ask that when you next organise a team day, you give some thought to those of us who have a different notion of fun. We are much more comfortable taking part in the structured, business part of team sessions. We care about the business, about getting it right, about making progress and we have contributions to make. But you won’t improve our people skills or “bring us out of ourselves” by asking us to make small talk with strangers or wear silly hats or do karaoke.

And what we really, really need to be able to relax isn’t to play Kerplunk with the Sales Managers. What we really need is to know that its okay with you extroverts if we don’t sing, giggle or scream with laughter. It isn’t disapproval on our faces. It’s misery and strain.

So, when you are planning your next event, how about you make it clear that everyone is expected to contribute to the formal, structured, business parts of the agenda? And then maybe say that you want everyone to enjoy themselves in their own way during the less formal parts? If you could acknowledge that “not everyone like the same things and that’s okay” it would help to take the pressure off us introverts. If I feel no compulsion to “have a good time” in someone else’s manner there’s a chance I could relax and have a good time in my own.

Wishing you peace now and for 2018