An in­tro­vert’s guide to mix­ing and min­gling

The Hamilton Spectator - - Business - JAY ROBB @jay­robb serves as di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Mo­hawk Col­lege, lives in Hamil­ton and has re­viewed busi­ness books for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor since 1999.

You’re about to walk into a room full of strangers for an hour of mix­ing and min­gling.

Will you have a blast shak­ing hands, mak­ing small talk and swap­ping busi­ness cards?

Or will you re­peat­edly skip to the loo to screw up your courage, calm your nerves and recharge your bat­ter­ies?

Morra Aarons-Mele feels your pain. The au­thor of “Hid­ing in the Bath­room” is an ex­treme in­tro­vert and self-pro­claimed her­mit en­tre­pre­neur who’s spent a life­time wrestling with men­tal health chal­lenges.

“Given my nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tions, I would hide al­most all the time,” says Aarons-Mele. “I would rarely chose to leave my house. But as ex­ten­sive as my on­line net­work is, I could not sus­tain a busi­ness that way.

“So I’ve learned to get out, build­ing in strate­gies and tricks that al­lay my anx­i­eties and in­tro­ver­sion while I’m at a pro­fes­sional gath­er­ing or client meet­ing, then cre­at­ing home time to recharge, be on my own and do the work.”

So here are some of Aaron­sMele’s tried and tested tricks for sur­viv­ing so­cial sit­u­a­tions like con­fer­ences, din­ners and net­work­ing events that can ex­haust and over­whelm an in­tro­vert.

Chan­nel your in­ner Oprah. “If you feel alien, un­wor­thy, shy or ner­vous in a room full of pow­er­ful play­ers, pre­tend you’re there to re­port a story. Ask peo­ple lots of ques­tions — this is your strength as an in­tro­vert.”

Re­mem­ber you are there to work, not to make peo­ple like you. “You’re a grown-up, it’s not mid­dle school and you don’t need ev­ery­one to sit with you any­more.”

Make some­one else com­fort­able. Ask­ing some­one how they’re do­ing is the gate­way drug to feel­ing com­fort­able, says Aarons-Mele.

Find a con­fer­ence “spouse” for cock­tail chat­ter and while stand­ing in line.

Be pre­pared. “When I have to go out in pub­lic and be awe­some, I’m train­ing for the Olympics,” says Aarons-Mele, who puts to­gether a brief­ing book for small talk and re­hearses names be­fore she walks into a room.

Only con­nect. Mas­ter the art of the “cock­tail bump” where you in­tro­duce peo­ple and then let the con­ver­sa­tion go on while you slip away.

Chunk your time. Set a min­i­mum tar­get for how long you’ll be at an event be­fore you need a time-out to recharge.

Know what comes next at the con­fer­ence or event. “The more you plan your sched­ule so you know you’re hit­ting what you need to, the calmer you’ll be and the quicker you can exit.”

Aarons-Mele also has strate­gies for avoid­ing so­cial me­dia’s twin plagues of achieve­ment porn and FOMO (fear of miss­ing out).

“If you’re an anx­ious in­tro­vert, an In­sta­gram pic­ture can turn into a dag­ger. If only I were dif­fer­ent, I too would be in­vited to that party. I’d be get­ting that award. In­stead, I’m hid­ing.”

Ev­ery time you feel left out or there’s a twinge of envy, re­mind your­self why what you’re do­ing is right for you. Turn FOMO into JOMO or the joy of miss­ing out. Feel grate­ful for what you have in­stead of re­sent­ful for what you’re miss­ing. You can also break the cy­cle of brag­ging by us­ing on­line com­mu­ni­ties for get­ting and giv­ing ad­vice.

While in­tro­verts need to work at get­ting them­selves out there, Aarons-Mele says em­ploy­ers must also do their part and rec­og­nize our skills and strengths.

“As we rec­og­nize neu­ro­log­i­cal and emo­tional di­ver­sity in all its forms, work­place cul­ture needs to be­gin to make room for the tech­ni­colour range of emo­tion. Al­though so much has been done to pro­mote di­ver­sity at work, there’s a giant hole in the un­der­stand­ing of how tem­per­a­ment and emo­tions play not just into our daily grind at the of­fice, but into the very tra­jec­tory of suc­cess.

“It’s my fond­est wish that man­agers and HR pro­fes­sion­als be­gin to rec­og­nize the am­biva­lence and in­ner con­flict that many in­sanely tal­ented peo­ple feel. Be­cause when they get the space they need, great em­ploy­ees have no rea­son to quit or feel mis­er­able. Great things hap­pen when teams are truly di­verse and team mem­bers can be hon­est about who they truly are.”

Hid­ing in the Bath­room by Morra Aarons-Mele. HarperCollins $31.99

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