#NASPA14 Member’s Choice: Introversion in Student Affairs

Thanks in large part to faith in me from Chris Conzen and trust in me from Eric Grospitch, I had the opportunity to facilitate one of the inaugural Members’ Choice sessions at the NASPA Annual Conference in Baltimore. I got to talk about what I know- introversion in student affairs 🙂

Members’ Choice sessions are less structured than most traditional conference sessions, calling for facilitators rather than presenters and fewer constraints on what role attendees play in the session. When I learned I would be presenting, I wanted to make sure that it differed from any other experience most of the conference attendees had had up to that point. So here’s what we did.

This session started with…nothing. After somewhere between two and five days of frenzied action, I sensed that the introverts in the room would need some quiet time. I closed the door, introduced myself, and allowed the group to start with nothing. Heads on the table and eyes closed, we spent our first three minutes together breathing, relaxing, and recharging with music on in the background.

Heads down, energy up. IMAGE CREDIT: Amma Marfo

From there, we spent some time reflecting quietly about the challenges that introverts face in the workplace. For the extroverts in the room (of which there were a few), I asked them to contemplate what workplace practices they suspected would challenge introverts. Each individual was given about five minutes to think about the question at hand alone, and then groups conversed with one another to create a top three list of introvert challenges. Below are the most common or significant items from those lists:

  • Networking/meeting people (on almost every list)
  • Struggle being on the spot- want time to think before responding
  • Having introversion misunderstood/mistaken for disengagement, indifference, or incompetence
  • Being okay with taking time to recharge, and the perception of that need
  • Managing the pace of long and/or busy days

From here, each person in the room was asked to write down ways that he or she copes with the demands of living in an extroverted world- what we say, do, or tell ourselves to get through each day. Rather than calling on individuals to read their contributions, we placed them on the floor in the front of the room and allowed people to scan the floor for items they agreed with or thought were interesting.

Fellow introverts! Read below to see a few highlights of what your colleagues and friends are doing to keep their sanity and maintain the quiet in a loud world (or office):

  • The two most common responses to this query: listening to music (“Spotify!” was one response), largely through headphones; and mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation. I loved seeing these strategies embraced so widely- I use them both frequently!
  • Another frequently mentioned strategy: placing and being true to boundaries. Whether it’s taking time to work at home or in a place away from the office, or letting a supervisor or colleagues know what they need for success, introverts are making their needs known.
  • Social media outlets were also frequently mentioned as a means to decompress and relax. I am becoming increasingly interested in the idea that social media outlets are used differently based on temperament, and the responses given here have only strengthened my resolve to dive into that question with a research mentality in the near future.

Other responses from attendees included:

  • “I will be upfront about my personality and that I need time to process and analyze my thoughts.”
  • “Define myself rather than letting perceptions of extroverts shake me.”
  • “Dazzle them with your knowledge you’ve taken in by being a good listener.”
  • “NAPS!” [Author Note: YESSS!]
  • “Promise myself a treat later for holding it together.”
  • “Focus on quality, not quantity of interactions.”
  • “Clean!”
  • “Upfront communication regarding expectations on projects requiring timelines.”
  • “Networking in groups, ‘two introverts make an extrovert'” [Author Note: I will be using this phrase in future sessions and writing]
  • “Man up- do what you gotta do!” [Author Note: we talked about this one in more detail in our session. Some parts of our job call us to do things with which we’re not comfortable. And despite our better judgment or wishes, sometimes we can’t do anything else but be in that uncomfortable space for a time. We shouldn’t spend all of our time there, but sometimes we have to.]
  • One response I loved seeing: “As an extrovert, I take time to recharge, too.” [Author Note: The strategies we see so often embraced by introverts, can generally benefit all students. It’s important to not assume that folks on either side of the spectrum need to be treated wildly differently. A mix of strategies that benefit each can be good for everyone.]
  • “Remembering that there are other introverts in the field and (hopefully) connecting with mentors/sympathizers who can validate your feelings.”
  • And the one I told the room I will hang in my office…“I cope by refusing to see my introversion as a deficit.” To that, I say:

Oh hell yeah. IMAGE CREDIT: ReactionGifs.com

Last on the agenda, groups were asked to talk about practices and initiatives on their campuses that were helping introverts engage with greater ease. Great ideas surfaced here: online discussion groups to go along with orientation sessions, structured reflection exercises, mid-semester involvement fairs, and more came up as ideas that recognized the time and pace-slowing needed to prevent introverts from feeling overwhelmed. This part excited me the most- it showed that the people in that room were committed to giving introverts the comfortable, unintimidating experience they may not have had during their own college experience. I left the session inspired to create accepting spaces on campus for my students and colleagues alike.

I hope all the Members’ Choice sessions were similarly inspiring for those who were able to attend, and I look forward to seeing the future of this conference format inspire others as well.

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