There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. And it's not the same as shyness.
Introverts prefer spending their time at home or in the company of a few close loved ones, but there are times when being social can't be avoided. The occasions — whether a meeting, conference, or party — can fill an introvert with dread.
“It makes them very uncomfortable and raises their anxiety,” said Barry Smith, professor emeritus and director of the Laboratories of Human Psychophysiology at the University of Maryland. “Most introverts who try to become more outgoing or more socially active fail in the long run.”
Research shows that introverts and extroverts experience different brain activity. Introverts generally experience more stimulation, meaning that a boisterous social event creates more clamorous activity in their brains.
But what’s an introvert to do if she needs to present a paper at a conference, attend an annual meeting, or join a friend’s party?
“Accept it and go,” said Bernardo J. Carducci director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast and author of The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk: How to Talk to Anyone Anytime Anywhere about Anything.
For the times an introvert need to be more outgoing, there are some helpful strategies.
Be fashionably … early
Introverts’ brains experience over-excitement; it's one of the reasons they prefer skipping loud, crowded places that require loads of social engagement.
When they need to attend a social event, they often show up late because they’re trying to slip in unnoticed. They might sneak in, but it means that they are arriving after the excitement has begun.
“They are talking and mingling and you combine that high ambient level of noise and a high level of excitement that is around you; it is like jumping into a pool of really cold water,” Carducci said.
By showing up on time, introverts ease into the party.
“When you get there early your level of arousal can begin to adjust to the low level of arousal,” he said. “Give yourself time to warm up.”
Do your homework
If the meeting is about marketing trends, seek out recent news about marketing. If the party includes people who love prestige TV, research Mr. Robot trivia for conversation fodder.
“Rather than focusing on the difficulty of the situation think about what you can do to get ready," said Carducci. “Then you can practice.”
He also recommends that people engage in what he calls “quick talk,” a brief conversation with a series of different people. The conversations should be short and can be repeated from person to person. It shows others that you are comfortable talking and that others are comfortable with you.
If a conversation falters, don’t get discouraged. Perhaps that person is also an introvert who also needs more time to reply.
When it comes to business, introverts might want to make choices that allowed for one-on-one conversation, Smith said.
“You are going to prefer where you don’t have to stand up in front of a large group of people,” he said.
Get outside your comfort zone while in your comfort zone
If you’re introverted and want to push yourself socially, try doing it in a safe space. Maybe you feel comfortable at your best friend’s parties; challenge yourself socially there by talking to new people. If your coworker invited you to a cookout, don’t show up alone.
“That is too much at the same time,” Carducci said.
Bring a close friend to the party.
“You are talking about expanding your comfort zone and you want to do that in an incremental manner,” said Carducci.