Quiet Revolutionary Sabrina Simpson’s Story
In my second year of university, I joined a supper club to meet some new people. I joined mid-year, so by then all the table groups had formed, and the only space left was at a table of people who hadn’t really jelled into a talkative group. There were long painful silences each night.
One of my dorm-mates sat at one of the other tables, and although he often dominated the conversation, he also managed to keep it lively, seeking out participation from everyone at the table. Eager to have more fun at my table, I observed his methods in the hopes of trying to learn how he did it. I realized his initial running banter provided a starting point, something for others to respond to, and by drawing in others by calling out their names, he allowed people to join in, keeping the conversation lively.
As an introvert, I felt the idea of trying to start a conversation at a table full of very quiet people seemed impossibly difficult, but on the other hand, sitting at a table night after night with a group of people who didn’t talk was pretty miserable too.
One night, I plucked up my courage and told a funny story about something that had happened in one of my classes. I can’t remember what it was about, but everyone listened, and I think someone even laughed. I told another story and asked questions, addressing a couple of individuals by name. Eventually, the group was talking, albeit a bit awkwardly. But there was also a sense of relief around the table: not only was someone making the effort to have a conversation, but maybe there was a way out of the nightly awkward quiet.
Before I went to dinner the next night, I planned a couple more stories I could tell, and I did that on my way to dinner each subsequent night. Soon, someone else joined in, and because I do like a good laugh and generally am not shy about laughing out loud, our table got a bit louder, and slowly, over a period of a week or so, our discussions became more fluid. And it wasn’t always me who started the conversation!
It turned out, of course, there were some really interesting people at the table who just needed someone to start the conversation.
Eventually, we had our own fun table gang that I looked forward to spending time with each evening. I felt really proud when my talkative friend from the dorm eventually came and sat at our table because, clearly, we were having a whole heap of fun that he didn’t want to miss. And his moving to our table actually precipitated other people moving around the table groups and mixing things up every night. It had become clear there were interesting people at all the tables, and we all wanted the opportunity to spend time with each other. Which was the point of the supper club to begin with.
I want to encourage you to remember that sometimes it is worth the temporary discomfort of pushing yourself out there a little bit, especially when the rewards can be so huge. My efforts could have flopped if no one laughed or engaged in conversation at my table, but since we were all there to meet people, the risk was pretty low, and the “do nothing” alternative was pretty bleak. Plus, the result was really amazing! We ended up not only gaining a whole group of people to enjoy, who had been unengaged, but also changing the way the supper club was organized: each member got more access to everyone else and with a lot more fun along the way.
Never underestimate the power of your introverted skills to quietly create change in your organization for the better—for everyone.
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