People who were, or still are, extremely active on the local level have experienced the process of recruiting new members. If you are one of those people, then you know that the majority of new members fall into two major categories: overly excited members who are more than ready to take a new task upon themselves, and those who are capable of coming to a meeting after meeting without saying a word. Even though the members who fall into the first category are easier to work with, you shouldn’t be so hasty in ignoring those who fall into the second one either. And here’s why!
A new member joins your section. They seem very quiet, shy, and wrapped up in their own thoughts. They often avoid eye contact, and they never volunteer for tasks by themselves, but they rarely refuse when you ask them to do something. However, they show up and participate in most of the section activities, which makes them reliable. When they want to do something they contact you personally rather than raise a hand in front of the entire group. They rarely express their ideas, but when they do, they are creative, realistic and well thought through. Someone popped into your mind? Congratulations - there’s an introvert in your section!
Introversion is the state of being predominantly interested in one's own mental self. A very popular and widely accepted definition characterises introverts as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction. Both introversion and extroversion occur on a spectrum, which means that there are different degrees of introversion. Some introverted traits seem to be ingrained, others are a result of the culture we live in. Although every introvert is different, most introverts share certain traits and challenges, such as love of introspection, a need for solitude, and a slower, more focused communication style.
Not even a place as magical as our network can “cure” introversion, nor should it - there is absolutely nothing wrong with being introverted. However, introverts are often very hard to work with. They can seem uninterested in whatever you are talking about which makes them seem like they don’t care. They rarely share their ideas, so it can seem like they don’t contribute as much as other members do. They often seem cold and indifferent, and you are not sure how those people would fit into your team. Also, their stillness and aloofness can seem like unwanted traits for someone who should hang out with complete strangers.
However, introverts deserve a chance as much as outspoken members do. Why? Well, if nothing else, we pride ourselves to be an organisation which, among other things, aims to develop their members both personally and professionally. Don’t be mistaken, an introvert didn’t show up in your section to make your life harder or to cause problems, it actually took a lot of time, strength, and deliberation for them to even produce a thought about stepping into an unknown environment.
Introverts are often angrier at themselves for possessing such traits than you can ever be. They often want to express their ideas, offer solutions or take over some responsibilities, but they find themselves unable to, simply because of who they are. It takes a lot of courage for them to speak up in front of an unknown group of people they don’t trust yet and there is a lot of them screaming at themselves inside of their head when they fail to do so. And if that person continues coming to your meetings and activities, be kind to them - they are working on themselves.
Furthermore, introverts can contribute to your section greatly. Introverts find it more complicated for themselves to process interactions, information, and events because while processing, they carefully attend to their internal thoughts and feelings at the same time. They are not uninterested in the work you do, it simply takes them a bit longer to comprehend what you are saying and how they fit into the picture. If you give them some time, they will produce positive, analytical and realistic results. Additionally, they are sensitive to dopamine which means they need less of it to feel, well, anything. This is why they will feel more content and energized if you give them a creative project to work on than if you force them into a situation they don’t feel comfortable in.
Also, introverts require less stimulation from the world in order to stay awake and alert than extroverts do. This means introverts are easily over-stimulated, which is why they rarely participate actively in group meetings or activities with a lot of people around them. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like people, it simply means this kind of activities often exhaust them. However, you can count on them to do every task you delegate to them.
Whether you are an introvert who just joined the network or someone who has to deal with an introvert, here’s what’s important to remember:
1. Although it may not always seem like it, they are here because they want to be here. They are trying to break out of their shells - help them. All they need is a little push before they can hold presentations in a room full of people or present their candidacy for a Local/National/International Board.
2. Their best thinking occurs when they are by themselves. They will come up with a creative solution by reflecting quietly and they will grow into knowledgeable and successful members if you award them with a little bit of solitude.
3. They can lead a group of self-starters. They may be quiet, but they can also step up and run things and under the right circumstances, be the best of leaders. If you have a group ready to lead itself, an introverted leader will draw the most potential out of it.
4. They can go to parties, but not to meet people. They would rather spend time with people they feel comfortable with.
5. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than mingling with those people afterward. Introverts can be excellent leaders and public speakers, yet you will have to explain the importance of networking to them.
6. They would rather be an expert in one thing than knowing everything. If you see that they are interested in a certain subject in ESN, lead them in that direction because they will become an expert in it.
To conclude, don’t mistake introverts for socially awkward loners who stand alone at parties, staring at their phones. It will take a bit more time to shape them into an ESNer because of their traits, but if you dedicate your time to them, you will end up with reliable, creative, and successful members with distinctive leadership traits who aren’t afraid to take new challenges. Also, there are some advantages of having introverted members - they are less likely to contradict you or disobey orders than an extroverted member. In reality, our network needs introverts as much as introverts need a network like ESN.
P.S: This article offers the perspective of the writer and as such, is not meant to be taken as a generalisation of those who identify as introverts.