A while ago, I received a letter from a reader named Lily, who describes herself as extremely quiet and shy. Lily is part of a women’s group called the “Super Women Sisterhood,” which is comprised of eight boisterous, extroverted women. When Lily attends the meetings, she feels invisible and overwhelmed, and she worries that the women think she’s antisocial or snobby. She wants to get comfortable with the “Super Women Sisterhood” because she feels it will become a supportive, nurturing environment once they understand her. She asked me to suggest some strategies or icebreakers to help her connect to the women and help them bond and learn more about each other.
What a great question! I immediately knew my good friend Jennifer Kahnweiler, who wrote the incredible new book The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together, would have the perfect advice for Lily. Jennifer’s answer was so terrific, I’m sharing her letter to Lily with you. I invite you to share your favorite icebreakers and thoughts in the comments.
I imagine that as an introvert, you carefully considered stepping into a group where you clearly are outnumbered. So kudos to you for signing up in the first place! Despite a mix of differing personality styles, I agree that you can gain a great deal from these gatherings and would like to offer a few ideas to help make that happen.
1) Reframe: Who wouldn’t be frustrated being talked over? Extroverts have a quick pace and can wax enthusiastic about their experiences. Unfortunately, they often don’t have a clue that too much energy can be unpleasant for the introverts in their midst. I doubt they are seeing you as “antisocial or snobby” as you put it. They probably aren’t even stopping long enough to think about it!
Try this: instead of thinking about how you are being seen, focus on what you do well and draw on your natural, quiet introverted strengths. For example, your attentive listening will build trust with members of the group. Apply your “introvert instincts” to dig deep and ask pointed, penetrating questions. Use another quiet influencer strength—preparation—by reflecting on what you wish to learn from women in the group. Also use your penchant for taking quiet time to consider what ideas and resources you can suggest to help other group members.
2) Pair Up: I have been in a few groups similar to the “Super Woman Sisterhood” (admittedly with less clever names). A quieter member suggested we take ten minutes to pair up with another woman. This technique proved to be a winner. We got to know each other this way, and this camaraderie spilled over into the larger group. I also think the extroverts can focus more and get to another level of intimacy and sharing.
3) Group Activities of Connection: Here are five other ideas for connection. Adapt them to your group’s needs.
Collage night. Bring old magazines, glue, scissors, and construction paper. Each person individually creates a collage with pictures and words that represent where they are now and/or where they are headed. This is a great activity because it plays to the introvert’s preference for quiet and the extrovert’s desire to talk. After completing the collage, everyone shares (optional) what they have created and why.
Two facts and a lie. This can be done in pairs in the larger group. Tell two things about yourself that are true and one that isn’t. The group has to guess. This is a fun way to reveal more about yourself in a lighter way, and you have control over how deeply you go on this one.
What is on your “Bucket List”? I would suggest dividing the group of eight into two groups for this activity. Each woman describes one or two things on her list, what she wants to do before “kicking the bucket,” and why this is important to her. A follow-up activity (introvert-friendly) is to ask members to solicit ideas for making that bucket list item a reality. Circulate each person’s wish at the top on a piece of paper, and keep those papers circulating throughout the evening.
Offers and needs. This takes a little homework. Each woman writes down two to three work or personal “offers” she has to share on an index card. It can include a new skill, resource, or idea you have recently acquired (e.g., presentation software, a great handyman). She also prepares a list of two to three work or personal “needs” (e.g., quick dinner recipes, dog friendly restaurants, etc.). During the group meeting, everyone stands up and has one-on-one conversations sharing their offers and needs. Seemingly random, it is a fail-safe way to network without calling it “networking.”
Free writing. This is an unfiltered writing exercise done for a set time period. Suggest a topic (e.g., “A woman who influenced me as a young girl” or “The best vacation I ever had”), and ask everyone to write for up to five minutes. Set the timer, and when it rings, anyone can volunteer to read their piece to the group. An important ground rule is that no one can criticize the writing but may comment if the reader gives them the okay. It isn’t only the introverts who will appreciate the chance to go within. Everyone will get into a deeper space and connect in new ways.
I do hope these ideas help you, Lily. You are a thoughtful, quiet influencer who, I am confident, will make a real difference in this group. Enjoy the experience, and let us know how it goes!
Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., is an international speaker and executive coach whose clients include General Electric Co., AT&T Inc., the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and NASA. Her latest book, The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together further establishes her as a “champion for introverts” and follows her previous bestsellers, Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference and The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength. For more information, please visit her site, and follow her on Twitter at @JennKahnweiler.
*The above post previously appeared on Susan Cain’s former blog, The Power of Introverts.