Monday, April 7, 2014

5 Ways to Entertain an Introvert at a Party: Helping Everyone Feel Comfortable at the Table.

 It was a humid Saturday in September when we were invited to the Rabbi for lunch. We had been living in the USA for just 3 weeks, and we and our three young children were still very much in culture shock. 

The Rabbi and his wife, a warm, gregarious couple, welcomed us and 6 of their friends -all pillars of the community, to their table. 

 I sat there, fearing our crawling 8 month old was going to pull something precious off a low surface, and tried to make small talk with the other guests whom I had never met.  

That was intimidating enough. 

But then the Rabbi announced that to get to know each other, we were going to go round the table describing to the other guests, how we had first met our spouses. At this point, I was horrified and terrified and focused on just one outcome - how I could make a quick exit.......

What rose to the surface was my British reservedness and my introverted personality. If you have ever been filled with dread, as a presenter, in the first hour of a group session, asks you to turn to your neighbor and reveal something deeply personal about your self and then be prepared to share it with the other 100 people there, you will know what I mean. You'd be running for the exit with me.

Making friends, for me, is a slow and steady process. It reminds me of peeling the layers of an onion. Slowly, slowly, little by little as my trust grows, I release another layer about my life, the most private, precious information buried deep and reserved for a few people who I know will never reveal it to anyone else.

I listen more than I talk and if I have nothing to say, I say nothing. I don't like to be put on the spot and I like to think carefully before I answer. I think it is the way many introverts operate.

 I have used the word introverted in some of the ways Susan Cain describes characteristics of introverts in her book Quiet, The Power of Introverts In a World That Can't Stop Talking. ( A link to the book is with my Amazon book choices to the right of this post.)

Along with the characteristics I describe above, one she notes that is common to most introverts, is that they are energized spending time alone and their energy is depleted being with large groups of people for extended periods of time.

Extroverts on the other hand love a big gathering and are energized being around many people at a time, working in groups, sharing their ideas, opinions and life history easily and confidently. Solitude on the other hand may make them uncomfortable. 

Their way of making friends reminds me more of orange segments. They will take a piece of their lives and hand it to you in full color, sometimes on a first meeting. They are often the life of the party, charismatic and confident in crowds.

Being an introvert does not automatically mean you are shy.

 I have given public speeches, lectured to large groups on teaching and learning styles, run a special needs department in an elementary school and been a school principal. As a volunteer, I have put together massive 'whole' school art projects and hosted many large gatherings, sometimes a hundred people at a time, in my home. 

I'm always glad to do it and I particularly love the process, when I am working with a few people and when I feel passionately about the project and outcome. But I also know I will need time afterwards to regroup and recharge my energy reserves, that get depleted in the melee. 

The introvert-extrovert model got me thinking about Moses who Cain sites as an introvert along with Steve Jobs, Dr Seuss, Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt. (Hardly people who took a back seat in the way they led their lives.)

At the Rabbi's table, we did tell the story of how my spouse and I met. My husband, a great storyteller, thankfully was my spokesperson and I was able to add some details to the tale, as and when I was ready. Afterwards I did have to go home and have a good sleep  to recover!!!

It is in understanding that introverts and extroverts have different strengths and thrive in different conditions that is key

This knowledge unlocks the secret to making all your guests feel comfortable at the table, to building and maintaining successful relationships and for providing optimum conditions for children to learn successfully and employees to be most productive.

As Susan Cain says, 

"We need to find the zone of stimulation that is right for us." 

And I would add: Respect it is different for others. 

Researchers estimate that a third to one half of the population is introverted, so either you or someone you are very close to, is on the introverted end of the spectrum.

So what does it mean for your upcoming seder, dinner party, board meeting, staff social or children's party? 

It means that not everyone you invite, will want to participate as vocally as the people they are sitting next to. It does not mean they are unengaged, lacking an opinion, disinterested or unhappy to be there.

 Here are some strategies that will help everyone feel comfortable at the table:- 

  • Give a heads up if you want group participation. It is very helpful to warn people in advance, if you want them to participate in a particular way. i.e. read from the haggadah, respond to a proposal, talk about a personal moment.
  • Allow them to join in at their level of comfort, particularly if you want to have ice-breaker questions, dress-up or presentations. 
  • Provide a quiet spot. If you are hosting a noisy party and want everyone to be comfortable, provide quieter areas for people to retreat to and have more in-depth conversations. 
  • Apply these strategies to kids too. Ask kids to join in, but don't put them on the spot where they have no choice. Again if you can warn them in advance about how you want them to participate, they are more likely to take part. Introverts like to be prepared.
  • Understand people differ in the amount of interaction they can handle in social and professional situations. If you know your friend/colleague is an introvert and they need to leave early, it may be because they have reached the limit of  their stimulation threshold and need to re energize in a quiet place. It may have been a huge effort to come in the first place.

With Passover coming and the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, you may want to consider the partnership of Moses and his more extroverted brother, Aaron. As Susan Cain explains using biblical sources, Moses was a reluctant leader, who spent many of his days out in the fields only with sheep for company. He had a stutter and did not like to speak in public. 

However with Aaron as his spokesperson, Moses was able to use his strengths to guide the Jews out of Egypt and through the desert, for forty years. Moses was able to climb up and down a mountain alone and carefully transcribe the lessons of the Torah, whilst Aron stayed with the people. 

The power of introverts and extroverts together cannot be underestimated. Extroverts will enjoy that introverts will listen carefully to them and introverts, when with extroverts they know well, may relax and be encouraged to let their wild side peek through!  (Yes I have a wild side too and I love to laugh!)

Are you an introvert or extrovert?

How does that affect how you feel at large dinner table gatherings?

What would you like others to know about how you function best in social settings?

Let me know below and of course you can email me privately if you are more comfortable with that!

Please help me out and share this post with your friends to make others aware of how we can bring comfort to everyone.

Happy Passover and Easter to all of you celebrating and enjoy Spring, which is here at last.

You may also enjoy: 

Why We Need To Stop To Admire The View :- 40 Years in The Wilderness. Did The Jews Ever Stop to Admire The View??

What I learned about Crisis and Recovery During Passover in Israel

Food For Thought-The Perfect Job Share Cooking with my Mum/Mom for Passover - Why We Make a Great Team

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  1. Thank you, fellow introvert, for writing this! As an introvert who leads a seder every year it is especially difficult for me. I am sensitive to participants' feelings and always provide an option to opt out of any discussion or reading aloud.
    Happy Passover to you and the family!

    1. As a fellow introvert, I really appreciate you commenting in 'public' ! Those strategies are very helpful for introverted guests. At the end of Susan Cain's book, she talks about her book dedication to her Grandfather who was an introvert and a beloved pulpit Rabbi in Brooklyn.I think you'd enjoy reading it.I'll send you a copy! Gilly

  2. Wow, Gilly! I have been doing a lot of creative facilitation, and that involves being very vulnerable in public, but I need to be reminded that not everyone finds that exilarating. And I am glad you made the distinction between shyness and introversion. They are very different.

    1. Thanks for commenting beth. Yes. You can certainly be introverted AND shy but they are not synonymous. I love talking to people, but prefer to do so, one on one or in very small groups, so that I can really get to know them. Introverts can also learn to 'fake' extroversion when necessary, but it is energy sapping.

  3. This is a great post! I too am an introvert (although an outgoing one -- and thank you for differentiating between being introverted and being shy!) and these tips would definitely help make me more comfortable in a dinner party situation. Is your husband an extrovert? Do you think you've learned to "team up" in the way Moses and Aron did to maximize each of your strengths? I love that God appreciated and used both of them to accomplish His will. Thanks again for this caring and empathetic post!

    1. Thanks very much Kristin! Actually,based on Susan Cain's test, my husband is an ambivert - a mix of both. I like to think we compliment each other personality wise.I can certainly rely on him to tell a great story at any gathering we attend!

      Susan Cain actually has a chapter in her book about helping a couple who lie on opposite extremes of the introvert-extrovert continuum, to understand and support each others' needs. I guess it's all about being respectful and compromising a little to meet those goals.