Introverts at Holidays

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As Thanksgiving and December holidays approach, I’ve been thinking about the introverts in my life—people who may become drained in large groups and overstimulating environments, and who tend to enjoy deep thinking and deliberation. Introverts may enjoy spending time with friends and family, but too many hours or days of socializing leave little room for contemplation, and can be exhausting for an introvert.

I had a client named Simon a few years ago with many introverted qualities. Simon didn’t need much attention, connection, or validation from others. He was close to a very few important people, and was content with those relationships. He was especially happy when he could close the door to his office and work deeply on his areas of expertise.

When I first began coaching him, it was because he was being considered for a more senior role, but he needed to work on connecting with others in the office. As I soon learned, colleagues admired him a lot, but several told me they weren’t sure if he liked them, or just tolerated them. “He’s hard to read,” one woman told me. He often cancelled meetings with direct reports, or moved meeting times around.

Because Simon’s new job would require him to connect with team members, he and I both knew that he would need to get better about having meetings. I also knew that he could probably lead those meetings well. Contrary to the image of a bold, extroverted leader, an introvert can excel at leadership. The unique strengths of introverts can be powerful in business: for instance, introverts tend to be thoughtful, considering problems carefully and sticking with them until reaching solutions. They like meaningful discussions, not small talk. Because they don’t tend to dominate conversations, they are often receptive to team suggestions and ideas.

Once Simon understood how hungry people were to have his attention, he was more comfortable with the idea of holding more meetings, and we discussed how to structure the meetings in a way that would allow him to feel less drained. We also talked about how he could connect with people through written memos, shorter, focused one-on-one meetings, and careful management of his time to make sure he got the quiet he needed on either side of the noisy, social gatherings he was required to attend.

It was the kind of navigation adult introverts are probably making this week, as they attempt to carve out quiet moments in the midst of a busy and social holiday. If that’s you, I hope you consider your strengths as an introvert, and use them to connect with those you love. When you’re done connecting, don’t feel guilty if you need a quiet walk alone or time to curl up with a book before you’re ready to socialize again.

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