LIGHT IT UP Preview: The Hip Hip Hooray

As the completion of my second book Light it Up draws closer, I want to share with you an excerpt- from the “Rewards and Recognition” chapter. I hope you’ll enjoy, and I look very forward to sharing the rest of its pages with you in a few short months!


Did you know that a (nearly) full-sized adult can fit under the seat of a school bus?

I learned this from experience on August 23rd, 2006.

I wasn’t hiding from danger, or embarrassment, or from bullying or teasing. I was hiding from a chorus, sing-screaming “The Birthday Song” at the top of their lungs. I was further startled and shaken by a head poking down next to mine, my friend Sami, to make sure I heard every word.

This isn’t the first time that such recognition brought my insides to the brink of curdling. As it happens, it generally involves being sung to on my birthday. But I’ve also learned in the years since that this reaction to being pushed into the center of attention, is by no means uncommon for introverts. While many care deeply about being appreciated by the people around them, few will revel in the opportunity for that appreciation to be shown in a public forum. Sophia Dembling put it beautifully: “I accept attention, sometimes I invite it, but I don’t compete for it.”

“Wait a minute,” you may be wondering, “doesn’t this vision of introverts reinforce some of the stereotypes ascribed to them?” In some ways, I suppose it does. To say “be careful how you recognize introverts! No surprises! Watch out!” makes them appear fragile, volatile even, like an unstable chemical compound or a jack-in-the-box. But the reason I’m so bullish about making this point is because a lack of care when doing so reinforces different stereotypes about introverts, ones that aren’t so nice. The rush of “power usage” that comes from being unable to effectively manage the energy that an unexpected place in a ceremony, results in an appearance of standoffishness, indifference, or a lack of gratitude- persistent stereotypes and misconceptions that sadly already plague introverts.

At the same time, many of us survive in (and perhaps, whether meaning to or not, cultivate) an environment devoid of recognition. Seeking efficiency and efficacy, we overlook what it may mean to praise the good work of a colleague or advisee. While this move may seem easier on all, few (irrespective of temperament) thrive in this version of a work climate. To halt recognition because “there isn’t time” or because it makes some people uncomfortable, isn’t an effective solution either. We always have time for what we prioritize, and I’m of the belief that showing appreciation and recognition for good work should always be a priority.

Not only do I wish that the landscape of rewards and recognition were better for introverts, but I wish it were better overall. But we’ll concentrate on the former here; I’ll briefly share a few tips on how to recognize the good work and growth of introverted student leaders without sending them retreating to the safety of the underside of a seat. It’s uncomfortable under there. I’ll note that many of these tips apply to recognition in the form of ceremonies; after that, I’ll share a few more private recognition and reward methods that could take the place of a large event.

Change the time of day. As odd as it may seem, it may make more sense to hold some of these recognition ceremonies early in the day. In addition to getting the work day off to a good start, the quieter of your students stand a chance of being better energized early in the day, before their daily routines and other elements have had the opportunity to wear on them. It presents different logistical challenges than a ceremony later in the day, but advance notice can sometimes address that concern.

Let them know in advance. Speaking of advance notice…a quick note to those that like awards to be a surprise: not everyone likes, or works well under, those conditions. And the rush of stimulation that comes with an attempt to simultaneously comprehend a surprise and a surprise space in the spotlight, is an excellent recipe for introvert overwhelm.

By the same token, I’m sensitive to the notion of wanting there to be some semblance of suspense to the proceedings. To that end, I would recommend informing honorees of a nomination, and strongly encouraging attendance. That combination allows individuals to prepare for the inevitability of taking the stage, and presents a bit of the mystique that is so attractive to those that do like surprises.

Enlist the help of those they’ve bonded with. As we’ve established elsewhere in this volume, introverts take personal bonds very seriously; they serve to ground them, provide a sense of stability in a world that can sometimes sneak up on you. Should you elect to maintain uncertainty or high stimulation in your proceedings, do your best to ensure that there is someone in the audience or nearby who they are comfortable with and can provide a calming presence amidst a scenario that may feel chaotic in the moment.

If your students are allowed to bring outside guests, encourage they bring a close family member or friend to the ceremony with them (another way of signifying, “Hey, something’s going to happen!”); if space doesn’t allow for it, encourage they have a friend or mentor from campus on hand.

Quietly spread the word. David Zweig, author of the book “Invisibles,” expertly unpacked this term as a means to classify those who fit some or all of the following traits: generally ambivalent to recognition, meticulous, and comfortable taking on responsibility. While invisibles are not all introverted (by any means), it is a common station that introverts find themselves in. They don’t work or excel for recognition, but at the same time would like their good and hard work to be appreciated. A great way to do this is to share meaningfully news of awards and recognition.

Consider pairing an award with a press release to be sent to a student’s hometown newspaper, a detailed LinkedIn recommendation or recommendation letter, or a note of gratitude to send to family members (one year, on Student Employee Appreciation Day, I crafted thank you notes to my two students, and mailed thank you notes to their parents). If your campus uses a news dissemination platform such as Merit, ensure that this accomplishment is verified on their profile, so it announces itself without them having to negotiate nervousness about “tooting their own horn.”

Separate your spoons and glasses. Unless you know someone has prepared a speech (to this day, the only time I know of someone having a speech prepared for what was otherwise deemed a surprise, was my father at his 50th birthday party), don’t ask that someone – anyone! – speak extemporaneously when receiving an award. Some of the reasons for this may be logistical, but others are temperamental. In The Introvert’s Way, Dembling draws a connection between introversion and a common trait associated with them, preparedness: “Introverts think carefully before they speak. We can be excellent public speakers because we prepare carefully.” As such, a request for an eloquent speech within moments of winning may be infeasible. Think, after all, of actors and actresses who ascend the stage at the Oscars. Those who don’t prepare speeches rarely knock it out of the park- this could be part of the reason why.

Save it for posterity. How can a few hours of recognition be meaningfully recalled in the years ahead? A hint: it will likely take more than a small bundle of candy or a votive candle. It’s always nice to have something to refer back to as motivation during your tougher seasons; not a souvenir, but something more substantive. Could you allow winners to keep copies of the speeches given at their acceptance? Do you share the nomination letters with them? Is the ceremony recorded? Any of these methods could be used as an additional gift for those who win. To be able to take in the pride and accomplishment of the moment in one’s own time is among the greatest gifts you could give an introvert (or anyone, for that matter!); finding a way to do so would be a wonderful way of acknowledging your appreciation for them.

What other tips do you have for recognizing introverts?

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