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Designers — Stop blaming your introvert self

Photo of a speech bubble image made with paper
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Designers — Stop blaming your introvert self

A collection of actionable tips to flex your extrovert muscles.

Another generic human behavior article?

A good chunk of the internet is filled with content recommending tips and advice for people to become more extroverted (and vice versa.) If you‘re unfamiliar on the subject, go through resources available online. Some examples can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here. A good list of books here as well.

I’ve watched this amazing ted talk a bunch of times, and I’d recommend you view it as well. She really root causes some important issues this divide creates which we all can relate to.

Okay that’s all great, but why’re you writing this article then?

Great question. Within the design fraternity, (at least in Pakistan,) there seems to be a strong categorisation bias coming into effect between introverts and extroverts. Stereotypes are becoming the norm without enough discussion on the fruitful attributes of both. This needs to be addressed at all levels and one way to do that is to discover these traits and use them to your advantage.

Comic strip commenting on ‘stay at home’ attributes of introverts.
Still find this relate-able! Source:https://www.sinfest.net/view.php?date=2013-10-14

What’s the harm? I’m very happy the way I am

It’s great that you’re a kick-ass designer who can deep work in solitude and very happy working isolated from everyone else. Keep in mind that without these extroverted attributes you risk the following:

  • Any group activity (i.e. most of your career/ work life) needs you to have charisma to represent your thoughts at the right moments. You may be able avoid that early in your career, but will feel impeded if you aspire to become a leader one day.
  • If you want to help others and share your knowledge/ wisdom, you’d have to broaden your network and get in touch with multiple members of the fraternity.
  • If you want to initiate your own thing, you’d have to talk to people and figure out the right connections to make. Forming organic relationships can only happen if you’re doing it right and often.
  • Great designers are amazing facilitators. Complex problem solving is a team sport. You need to be able to drive conversations and by default introverts won’t have have this capability.
This is a DIY guide (at best), you’ll have to put in the effort.

Fair points, but how’s this article different from the content mentioned in the intro?

One of the problems I felt was that even with so much being written and said, there’s a lack of actionable take-aways which can help someone get started. Thats where this article is intended to support. Even though i’ll be writing from the shoes of a designer, a lot of these equally apply to others as well.

Photo of a pair of gym shoes and dumbbells.
Lace up! Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Getting to work!

The good news is that you already have an extrovert within. You simply need to train. I personally try to put these into practice wherever I can. As a rule of thumb, if it’s making you uncomfortable, you’re progressing in the right direction.

You can start with these, but eventually you’d notice that some things naturally suit your personality more. I’ve tried to loosely plug the actions into themes but they can easily spillover each other as well based on your situation. A lot of these tips will also help you with design research, conducting critiques and user testing as well!

You can only improve if you recognise it as a shortcoming.

Mindset shift

  • Stop saying “It’s not meant for me as i’m an introvert.” It just triggers confirmation bias. A lot of the research indicates that no one is only an introvert or an extrovert (we’re all some combination of ambiverts). It’s okay for you to be an introvert but still like to talk to people.
  • Be patient. It will require steady and deliberate practice. Just like you can’t do 200kg on the bench on your first day at the gym. Use some of the probes from the list below.
“We are kept from our goals not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” — Robert Brault

When at work

  • Talk to a new co-worker everyday, small talk is fine. Ask them their thoughts of what design means. Ask them what they do. Pick questions from this list to begin with if you need more inspiration.
  • Practice vocal variety during presentations to hook the audience. Be okay with behaving differently in different settings. Laughing during casual conversations and even breaking for a picture is fine.
  • When sharing designs with stakeholders, see if you can get them on a call and use this time to get to know them at a personal level and then proceed with the agenda. Just an additional 5 minutes can really help you understand each other better.
  • During breaks: Form a habit of catching up with a peer. Borrow 15 min of a colleagues time. Book it on their calendar as a 1:1 if you’re a bit formal. If not, simply grab a cup of chai/ coffee together.
  • Talk about food at work. Food’s naturally something which unites most of us! Offer to ask an unknown peer if they’d like to order the same thing which you’re having for lunch. Form multiple lunch club!
  • Don’t eat alone. Don’t also have lunch with the same people all the time. Use this time to randomly tag along another loner like yourself.
Top down photo of two people having black coffee
Do you like black coffee? Lemme know! Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

During a conversation

  • Start early and begin a chat with icebreakers. Ask the person how they like their coffee. Are they morning people or night owls. A lot of other great recommendations in this list.
  • Pay attention when others are speaking, really listen. Question their thought process not to interrogate them but to genuinely learn how they approach things.
  • Ask them about what they’re up to these days, what are their interests etc. what’s their past time, their favourite music etc. Again, pick questions from this list if you’re stuck.
  • Ask open ended questions as mentioned above. Pick something from this list if you’re stuck.
  • Be vulnerable. Openly share something you wouldn’t share otherwise. Ensure you make it relatable to the your conversation. Sharing about yourself is key if you expect others to get to know you better and do the same.
Photo of a random person posing as a note-taker
Take a note of all the things you need to communicate — Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

In your free time

  • Call over a friend for lunch or meet someone for lunch or coffee. 30 mins is fine. Commute to them, they’ll appreciate the effort even if they don’t express it.
  • Improve your body language. Practice non verbal cues / power poses. They’re natural confidence boosters. Read more here or watch this great talk here.
  • See if you can join speaking groups or weekend fraternity groups which offer you a platform. Toastmasters is one org which does this really well and does it in a structured fashion, but it’s very specific to public speaking and not everyone’s cup of tea. However, you can simply gather a group of friends and their friends to discuss a topic of interest and knowledge share. Get a few people interested and then start a Meetup session. Sky’s the limit.
Socialise based on your interest, it’s fine if at first you don’t meet complete strangers. You got this.
  • Make it a point to meet people around you. I’ve personally kept a goal of meeting 2–3 new folk every month or at least reconnect with a bunch of old ones. Again, the idea is not to force anything but naturally build this momentum. Start with a simple phone call or a chat :)!
  • Attend events partially, request early leaves. Have an escape plan. Tag with an extrovert friend, explicitly tell them to intro you to strangers. They’d be thrilled to do so and you’ll meet amazing people.
  • Volunteer. Help people out without the expectation of getting anything in return. Working towards a cause masks your comfort zone and opens new doors for collaboration.
Photo of a person in cafe at sitting at the last row
It’s fine to take the backseat like this dude — Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

On the internet

  • Search for the slack communities which may interest you. Join them. I can be found relatively active here. There are SO MANY amazing communities for designers, developers and more. Pick a few from this list.
  • Search for useful Facebook groups which may interest you. Contribute in these groups. For design, a few of the ones i’m trying to follow closely are this one and this one. A lot of other recommendations here.
  • If you’re already part of them, message. Don’t be a silent observer, don’t give in to the perception of others. Imagine you representing an entity, you’d have to do it someday, so might as well begin now. You don’t have to just give feedback, you can also request feedback and advice. It’s a two-way stream.
  • Given COVID-19 it’s more relevant than break physical boundaries and make meaningful connections remotely.
  • Take a look at amazing work other folk have done. Read their blogs. Subscribe to their newsletters. If you found it useful, see if you can reach out to them and say so.
“Choose your words” made with Scrabble blocks
You’d have to do it cuz the Scrabble blocks said it now! — Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

That’s a lot… where do I begin?

As I promised, my intention is to support you with as many micro steps as I can possibly can. Do the following as you read through.

  • Login to your Twitter account
  • Go to my profile
  • Tap on the message icon/ send me a DM
  • Share with me a one liner of an intro, what you found useful in this article, and what do you plan to start with.

Do it. Right now. This is as simple as it can get.

I would really like to get your thoughts and feedback on the practicality of this article. I’ve tried to make sure the recommendations are bite sized with enough room for exploration. Feel free to let me know if it didn’t work out that way. Would be happy to iterate and improve.

Thanks for reading, hope to see you flex those extrovert muscles soon!

Designers — Stop blaming your introvert self was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.