Curiosity: The Introvert’s Safety Blanket. (1/2)

I’m fairly shy when I first meet people and prefer to get to know someone a bit before opening up. Those who know me well likely don’t realize it, but I generally identify as an introvert. Because of that initial shyness, I’m regularly placed in social situations that can be uncomfortable or sometimes anxiety inducing.

These are some examples of social situations, which for a long time I would often (and still occasionally) dread, despite them being a necessity of my job and baseline expectation for most working professionals: attending a trade show or industry event, meeting potential new candidates in a hiring process, mingling at a job recruiting fair, hosting a client appreciation dinner or sales prospect event, or joining a vendor’s social outing.

Fortunately, the more reps I’ve had with each type of event, the easier they become… but still not that easy. I used to simply live through the discomfort leading up to these situations. And the discomfort was purely part of the lead-up; after the fact, I nearly always leave grateful to have attended and participated. Over the past few years, I started to realize something: most of my feelings of unease leading up to participating in these social situations came from the uncertainty of what I would have to speak to people about and the (often irrational) fear of being put in socially awkward or uncomfortable situations. Once I understood and acknowledged that, I was able to protect myself with a simple gift: genuine curiosity.

People generally love to talk about themselves and topics they are authentically passionate about. And because every single person you meet has some degree of knowledge on subjects you know little or nothing about, I started to re-frame these situations as fantastic opportunities to always learn something new. Thus, curiosity became and remains an incredible safety blanket.

Now if I’m ever in one of those uncomfortable or sort of awkward initial conversations and am unsure what to say, I approach with curiosity. What can I learn about this person or something they are interested in? It usually doesn’t take much to engage in a meaningful conversation, and I’m always happy to reciprocate. Learning about new people and new things is generally a treat.  

I wouldn’t say I’m at the stage where I look forward to these social situations, but at least I now feel well equipped to approach them with a positive mindset.