An Introvert’s Guide To Success And Networking

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Photo courtesy of Morra Aarons-Mele

[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Kevin Kruse: Can extreme introverts, true hermits have massive career success? Well, I sure hope so because I am a true introverted hermit. Hello everyone, Kevin Kruse here. Welcome to The LEADx Show, helping you once again to start out your day getting a little bit smarter. I want to help you to stand out and to get ahead at work and in life. On that note, if you haven't visited LEADx.org, we have podcast interviews with guest, we get tips, we have fun, but I give you free training actual training over at LEADx.org. Every day is a new course. It might be about communication, it might be about running meetings, it might be about email effectiveness, it might be about authentic leadership. You never know until you go to LEADx.org.

Today in the show you're going to hear me and my guest talk about succeeding as a true introvert, how we should make a digital contribution, how to put limits in place without hurting your career. The challenge of the day from our guest is do 1% less, find something to take off your to do list. Our quote of the day is, “Done is better than perfect,” from Sheryl Sandberg. Our guest is the founder of award-winning social impact agency Women Online, and she host the podcast, “Hiding in the Bathroom.” She's also the creator of the influencer network the Mission List. She was founding political director of BlogHer.com, and has written for the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, the New York Times, and many other publications. Her new book is, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There. Our guest is Morra Aarons-Mele. Morra, welcome to the show.

Morra Aarons-Mele: Hi, Kevin.

Kruse: Now, I've got a weird tradition on The LEADx Show, I ask all of our guest the same first question because I love failure stories. I think failures are just they're painful but stepping stones to something, always something better. Will you tell me a story of one of your best failures and what did you learn from it?

Aarons-Mele: I think my best failure was frankly my last failure at my last real job, meaning my last job at which I was employed by someone else. I was not very good at advocating for myself or protecting my turf in a company I was working at. I worked in the Washington office. We had a separate P&L from the New York office. The New York office did not like me. They did not want me there. They felt I was offering a competitive product and even though we work for the same company because different cities had different P&Ls, there was very little incentive for them to play nice and they launched a campaign sort of a whisper campaign to get me fired. I was so insecure, I didn't stick up for myself. I actually thought they were right. A few months later I left anyway, the job.

Now, at the same time I landed, helped to land a giant contract with one of the world's largest companies and really started to build my little Washington team. It's now, god, a 150 person team in the same office. What I learned from that experience is actually one of the biggest lessons that has gotten me where I am today which is that I am not great at fighting an office politics and conflict. I don't like it. Over and over again at my corporate career I had situations like that and I think it was because I was insecure, I was young, but temperamentally I'm just not cut out to do get out every day in the office boxing ring. Some people are, some people aren't. I think that's okay. I have forged a career running my own small business doing my own thing. I'm a workplace rebel and I'm glad I got out when I did.

Kruse: There's a lot of great stuff in that story. On an organization level before we get into the personal level I just want to highlight for our listeners I mean, this is often the root of corporate dysfunction is when you've got those silos that are incentivized against each other. So many high level C level people I know say, “Oh my gosh, the infighting, how come they don't get along?” Well, it's because they run a separate P&Ls and so they have no incentive to help each other.

Aarons-Mele: You've literally set them up.

Kruse: You're literally setting them up to compete and when people are competing for scarce resources, these things tend to happen. Then to your point, I think what's great is there's different ways that could be played, I guess some people out there could say, “Well, I'm going to become better at politics,” or whatever. If that's just not who you are, that's not a world you want, it's great, workplace rebel. It gives you a chance to identify who you really are, who you want to be and then create your own future which is awesome. That feeds right into before we dive more deeply into your book but general advice for young professional who wants to stand out and get ahead in her career these days.

Aarons-Mele: I think you have to know not only what you want to be when you grow up and what you want to do in your career but what you want to do every day. What is the environment in which you'll thrive? Are you sitting at a desk in a big open plan office collaborating with people? Are you working in small groups? Are you running all over a sales territory either in your car or on a plane? Are you holed up in a lab on your own or writing on your own? Sit in your desk and imagine your week, your month, your years. Your office environment, does it make you happy or does it make you want to throw up or hide in the bathroom? So many people get caught as I did in a career that they feel should be right for them but in the day-to-day practice is actually so wrong, and so that's honestly my best advice. Work is about much more than your giant career goals or who you are, it's actually what you do minute by minute, if you're not happy.

Kruse: I love that perspective because it's really looking at career, you talked a lot about environment. I mean, you could say I know I want to be a lawyer, that's the profession or the thing but is the environment you want to be a solo lawyer working out of your own office? Do you want to work in a giant Manhattan law firm?

Aarons-Mele: That's right.

Kruse: Corporate law or whatever, there's all kinds of different environments beyond just saying I'm going to be a lawyer, I'm going to be an X. That's really neat.

Aarons-Mele: I think it's really important too to I call it knowing your emotional BATNA. BATNA is a great term from negotiating. A lot of us are taught to be sharks and to always go for it. My story from the beginning is I didn't really go for it. I ran away and I know that that's not a fantastic leadership story and there's a lot of gendered stuff in there and there's a lot of age bias in there but I'm here to tell you that you have to know yourself and there are many different kinds of success.

Kruse: That's great. Now, Morra, I mentioned when I read on your bio of course but again your new book is, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There. Now, I have a massive introvert so I like all the attention recently on introversion and all of the rest. Tell us, let's start, what's the big idea of your book?

Aarons-Mele: The big idea of my book is exactly that, that you should find and choose and create a work life that is right for you and just the right level of success that's right for you. I really wanted to write a book for ambitious introverts but not just introverts. People who might have social anxiety, people who like me are hermits frankly who love working in their home office, really being able to control their time. Okay, you're ambitious but you love to be able to control your time, you love to be able to work at home, you hate the idea of going to endless networking events, you like to eat lunch alone.

You might ask yourself, how the hell can I be successful? My book actually provides a roadmap to do that. There are so many of us out there, we're super ambitious, we're good at what we do but we refuse to live a life of being on 24/7 shmoozing networking, being constantly on social media, just partaking in this achievement porn culture. I wanted to really lay out the roadmap.

Kruse: This is an important message and again, one that resonates with me. I mean, I as of right now I am working from the basement office without a single window. I always joke about my cave, I always call myself a hermit so I like even that language I tell my kids I'm a hermit. Even I struggle with this as I'm a serial entrepreneur so I can look back and calm myself down when I doubt myself but I think everybody doubts themselves starting a company, starting whatever. I think introverts will often say though, “How can I be successful in business or whatever when I don't want to go out and have after work drinks out all those networking events,” or, “It's so draining to be going out on these sales calls,” “I like huddling down myself.”

It was a great reminder for me and it's a great message for everyone out there, just because you're an introvert or worse, like I'm an introvert, I'm shy, I really am socially awkward. People like, “How do you do what you do being socially awkward?” It takes a lot out of me to do it. Your book is saying, “No, no, you don't have to give up on your ambition or dreams even if you have some of these social traits.” Give us some practical tips though, Morra. What do we do?

Aarons-Mele: Look at you, Kevin, I mean you go out and you speak in front of thousands of people, right? I would assume that that's really draining and it's stressful but you get up there. A) You practice, right? You know your stuff, you've done it a million times, the muscle memory takes over. That's really important. I would also wager that before you get on stage or before you get on that plane to fly to that convention or whatever, you are sitting there and you're thinking to yourself, “I don't want to do this but here's why I'm doing it. I got to put my kids through college, I really love my work. It's important. People resonate.” You tap into the meaning of why you do it and you were able to be a professional, do your job and get out there. It is written nowhere that introverts are less ambitious or less successful than anyone else.

A lot of people hate networking events, right? The key is knowing why you're there, how to do your job in the room because you are working, this is not middle school. You don't need to make people like you and then know when you can leave. Right? Whether it's making X many contacts, whether it's meeting a person you've been trying to meet. If you don't have a goal, if you feel it's a waste of your time, leave. Right? Know when networking event or convention or whatever is going to make your career. I think that many of us aren't strategic about how we use our time and how we use our biz dev and even how we use our social media presence and time, which is also really draining for introverts. I would say to people, before you do anything, always know why.

If you feel like you need to go to a conference because your boss wants you to, did you go last year? Was it worth your time? Is there another way that you can get that sales lead to convert to a client that's more friendly to you? Be super strategic and then the thing is I would say I'm like a dog, if I have a job to do I'm very happy. Probably like you, if I'm giving a talk or if I'm at an event, I know exactly why I'm there, I've practiced, I've rehearsed and then when my job is done I go. I know that sounds basic to people but it is so empowering, know why you're in the room, do your job, leave.

Kruse: This is great stuff. Again, just to highlight it for people and hopefully I'm not making it too personal but so much of this is relevant. For example, to go into a talk somewhere, often as you know the organizer will try to get the speaker to do a dinner event the night before. “Oh, you're flying in, come have dinner with us,” and all that kind of stuff. We're both like horrified by that.

Aarons-Mele: No.

Kruse: This is horrible. Then, I've often been given the advice of course that when you're done with your talk if you want to drum up future talks or consulting clients then you stay for the rest of the day and you network and you mingle.

Aarons-Mele: That's right, you never know who you're going to meet.

Kruse: Never know who you're going to meet. I will say that Vania on my team who is earnest and just wants the best for the company is always saying like, “Are you sure you don't want to stay, Kevin and network with all those people for a few hours? Are you sure you don't want to go to that dinner?” What you say is true, it's not that I'm not going to the talk. I think about it like the 80/20 rule like where's the most gain. The most gain is me standing on that stage for an hour doing a talk. Now, would there be a little chance for more success at the dinner or by staying five extra hours networking? Maybe, but because I'm an introvert I'm not going to do it. Go ahead.

Aarons-Mele: I just want to point something out which is I think really practical for our listeners and also I understand not everyone is giving big talks but imagine then if you left and you created a great little video highlighting your talk and put it on your Facebook page. You wrote a quick blog post, you did a Q&A on Quora. Think about the potentially thousands whatever millions of people you could reach in that amount of time that won't drain you, that will live forever because it will be findable in the internet. I mean, I feel the same way about social media interaction that I do about networking. I could tweet an Instagram and engage in a fun way all day and it would provide minimum value. I could write a killer article or Q&A or do a podcast or video and it will be an annuity that furthers my reputation and my brand. Again, it's all about like you said, ROI and making use of your time and managing your energy because we only have so much energy.

Kruse: This is a great pep talk for me right now because I’m horrible at social media and everybody, not everybody but so many people are trying to put their personal brand out by putting the selfies up all the time, selfie videos all day long, live stream everything. A few times I’ll say, “I’m traveling to this talk, I might as well show my trip and give wisdom,” and then I’m in the moment I’m like, “I just want to sit in this airport lounge and eat my peanuts and drink my coffee. I don’t want to put the camera on me and smile.”

Aarons-Mele: No offense, I don’t really want to watch you eating your peanuts.

Kruse: Right, this is a good advice for me, it’s like, “Kevin, okay you could sit there and write a LinkedIn post or another article,” it's something that’s going to feel more natural or even energizing rather than draining which so much social media is.

Aarons-Mele: Also, not only that, it will enhance your professional credibility, I mean as much as I might like you and I want to watch you eat peanuts, that’s not your value to me as someone who wants to learn about what you have to teach, like in a LinkedIn article. That is the best use. It's like Cal Newport and Deep Work which is one of my favorite, favorite books. How can your digital contribution be true to you and the brilliance and insight only you can offer versus just trying to engage and be silly? Which is great for some people.

Kruse: Right. I love that, the digital contribution, there's lots of different ways to make this digital contribution to get our message out, to help people, but it doesn't always have to be live or video. Let's think about what fits our personality as well. This is good, give me more advice from the book. I like the practical stuff.

Aarons-Mele: One thing I hear over and over from people as I've just come off a book tour and I've been in six cities and there are two things that people love to complain about to me if they work in an open office environment. One is and this actually could go for people who are working in co-working environments too but if you have listeners who are independent and freelancers and working in co-working environments which I love because they give you autonomy but one is, “Why is it expected that I should wear noise canceling headphones just to get some privacy?” AKA, “Why can't I have my own space because it's how I work best?” Corollary to that, “My boss wants me there but I really can't figure out why. My office is too chaotic, jarring, overwhelming, overstimulating, I have fluorescent lights. I just want to be able to work on my own terms because I will do better work.”

A) Why are we still talking about this question in 2017 when we have incredible connectivity? B) I think it tells a story of there's a lot of people feel trapped by other people's schedules and time needs and needs for face time. If you're an introvert, if you have social anxiety, if you're a wonderful hermit like we are, you might even be … I'm allergic to fluorescent lights, a lot of people are. They can give you a migraine. They're very, very demanding in a sensory way. I've been hearing people and I've been telling them A) Your boss doesn't want you to quit, you're good at your job, let's find a way that you can negotiate and get what you need. Right? Because I think that there's still in so many environments this sense that face time means everything and it is just not true.

In the book, I talk about lots of ways that you can either take what I call a hermit pilot, right? If your boss is not wanting to let you go, how can you either slip out unnoticed or take a morning at home and do a great job but my message to people is understand how you need to use your time and also your place and your space at work. If you can't work in your office, I don't know about you, I hate noise canceling headphones, they suck your ears out and they give me a headache. It's so unfair that people have to wear them. Ask for what you need.

Kruse: This is really good point. I think that, “Why does the boss want me in the office or need to see me so much?” I often think it's because it's a manager who doesn't know how to manage like they're managing the person rather than the results or the output. If you could just get clear on what are the expectations, “What is it expected of me to get done today or this week?” If I can explain, “I will get all of that done and maybe more if I can move into a more productive environment.”

Aarons-Mele: Probably.

Kruse: Then, again, old school bosses might not believe that but it's crazy to me because just because I can see on the other side of the office doesn't mean you're not playing around on Facebook on your phone or there's lots of ways to be unproductive at work.

Aarons-Mele: I give the example of a journalist I met who’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist whose editor insist she come into the busy newsroom everyday to write when she’s an extreme introvert and she can't concentrate. It's an overstimulating assault to her senses to go into that newsroom and produce a piece. Yet her editor wants to see her and again, data show as you point out, the best teams are the teams with the best communication and the expectations that people will support each other in their own work style. If you like to be in the office, rock on. If want to take clients out for dinner, rock on.

If I do better in my home office and then coming to the office for core meeting times and my idea of nurturing a client relationship is listening to them or talking to them on the phone or supporting them in other ways, for my clients I help them start blogging. I give them recipes. I'm there with them as a friend but I'm not taking them out for steakhouses and strip clubs.

Kruse: Right.

Aarons-Mele: There's more than one way to do sales and I think that it's really important to talk about that.

Kruse: I think that's true. I learn that the hard way. I had some bad mentors early on who when it came to sales people, hiring sales people and being successful, they only emphasize that rapport building type thing. Sure, you'd rather buy from someone you like than not but I learned, I mean, one of the most successful sales people I know my friend Ian, he's more of the as you said steakhouses and strip clubs kind of sales guy. It's all about rapport and friendships. He's done very well. Again, being a hermit, that ain't me.

Aarons-Mele: It's not working for you.

Kruse: It's not working for me but I have found just by being the nerd guy, the smart guy who can say, “Here's the stuff you should be thinking about,” or, “Here's what's coming down the road three years from now.” They need that as much as they need the other stuff as well.

Aarons-Mele: Even more because you're solving a problem. I mean, I think that's something really important. One of the best pieces of business advice I ever got when I started my businesses, you are trying to solve your customer's problems, right? Whether you're selling them a car or you're building them an online marketing campaign, and one of the things that I think introverts are really good at and people with anxiety are even better at is tuning in. Is knowing you Kevin and not just what you need from a practical sense but what's motivating you. What are the dynamics that you're dealing with in your office? How does your boss and the pressure that your boss is putting on you affect what I need to deliver to you? Tuning in is an incredible sales tool and it's a gift that we introverts have.

Kruse: I have something not specifically related to your book but I had a listener ask me this question recently and I knew I was coming up with this interview. He said, “Hey, I'm a massive introvert. I'm very non-confrontational, how do I get better at giving people feedback? Having these crucial conversations, these tough conversations.” Again, that's me and it's a little bit different but I am an introvert, I'm also very non-confrontational. Do you have any tips or advice for how do we make it more comfortable or how do we become better at having these candid conversations?

Aarons-Mele: I wish I had better advice because I too struggle. Two things, one is my bible. One of my bible is the book, Difficult Conversations, which I recommend to everybody because it is such a helpful tool to again tune in and figure out how to find a way to have a confrontational or hard conversation in a way that suits your personality. I think that's the important thing is to understand the role that emotions play in business. Emotions are present in every moment of business and sometimes those emotions are anxiety and fear and wanting to hide in the bathroom. They're not always go get them tiger, ambition, et cetera.

If you can understand how you're feeling before you have a difficult conversation, you can probably also get to a place where you can understand what your counterpart is feeling and have a more productive and honest conversation instead of assuming that like, “I'm going to have this confrontation but it doesn't really feel like me,” post, which frankly makes you weaker and people see through. Find your authentic self, know your emotional BATNA and definitely read difficult conversations.

Kruse: Great. I love that. I love to tell the listeners like don't try to completely transform your life, your career, whatever overnight. It's more about getting a little bit better every single day. Let's get 1% better every single day. I'd like you to give us a challenge, maybe something from your book. What's something at least for the introverts out there that we can do today that might help us a little bit to succeed at work or at home?

Aarons-Mele: I mean, honestly my biggest advice to people is to do less.

Kruse: Less.

Aarons-Mele: I think that you said do 1% more, I would say do 1% less.

Kruse: I love this.

Aarons-Mele: I think that many of us especially people in my audience, I always call myself I'm a recovering overachiever. I'm still an overachiever. I'm never happy but the truth is that so many of us drive ourselves to a level of perfection, of FOMO. We see what everyone else is doing via social media and we feel like we're not doing enough where we push ourselves to do even more. If we're introverts, we're struggling against it because it makes us unhappy. I would say especially now around this time, give yourself permission to do a little bit less. Look at your calendar and choose one thing a week you could say no to.

Kruse: I love it. Something to say no to. I saw an interesting comment, it was on social media and there's some post, one of these like you say, achievement porn post. “Today I got up at 4 AM and I ran 12 miles. I did this,” and almost all the comments were, “So inspiring, that's great, I'm going to hit the gym tomorrow.” One guy's post, I wish I knew who it was. I didn't follow up and he said, “Why don't you just sit on the couch and have a glass of wine tonight?” He says, “Realize, none of us are getting out of here alive.” Something about this crude to the point like all these celebration of this craziness, he's like, “Hey, none of us are getting out here alive. Have a glass of wine.”

Aarons-Mele: Real talk. I mean, that's the thing. I love social media and look, as an entrepreneur, as a hermit entrepreneur I could not live my life if it weren't for the fact that I can stay connected to literally the world from my home office. Let's face it, as you well know, when you have your own business, when you're hustling, you've got to cultivate FOMO too. You need to use social media strategically to show how amazing you are because you want people to hire you. Again, real talk, I think there's also the sense now and I run a social media influencer marketing agency so I'm very tuned in to this that we're sick of the curated approach to life. We aren't always inspiring as people. I think that in 2018 we're going to see hopefully a little bit less curation and a little bit more reality and let's support authentically.

Kruse: Okay, I have to dive into this given what we do so when you talk about less curated, does that mean more of the Gary Vaynerchuk follow me around today and this is my day because that's very authentic and real, right?

Aarons-Mele: Is it though?

Kruse: Is it something else? I don't know. You tell me.

Aarons-Mele: I mean, I have a lot of problems with Gary Vaynerchuk. I talk about this in the

book, I mean, no offense to him, he doesn't even know who I am. He's very great and important and wealthy and everything but his method, his message of crushing it, he's like intense, macho, always on shtick is not for everyone.

Kruse: Certainly not for the hermits, right?

Aarons-Mele: No, we have to give people other role models. I don't want to live Gary Vaynerchuk's life. I once tried to schedule a meeting with him and literally his assistant said he had 3 AM on a Wednesday, 3 AM, okay? That's not okay with me. Great for Gary, awesome for Gary, but let's see other role models.

Kruse: Explain more when you talk to me about social media in 2018 and beyond it's going to be less curated. What do you mean by that phrase?

Aarons-Mele: I mean by people really putting out images of perfection, of success, of your friend, that guy who ran five miles and shared it, many of us are anxious. Probably a third of the population according to data is crippled by anxiety every day but we're still going to work. We're feeling all of our feelings. We're unhappy. We're stressed out and yet if you look at our presence on Instagram, you think that we were just baking perfect puff pastry and working out all the time. All the toxins in our workplaces which I won't go into now aren't going to change until we start being more real.

Kruse: Now I understand. Thank you for that. You're right, on social media it's like the highlight reel of the day.

Aarons-Mele: It's the highlight reel. It's the highlight reel. Even failure is like highlighted. It's like, “Oh, I failed but then I learned this and now it's perfect.” Right? You know what? Guess what, a lot of people fail and it sucks and it doesn't get better.

Kruse: It hurts.

Aarons-Mele: It hurts. Life is hard and I want to see leaders because people come up and talk to me all the time, CEOs, “I'm so depressed. I'm on these medications.” I'm not saying you have to share your list of psychopharmacology with the world but don't pretend like you're not that person.

Kruse: Right.

Aarons-Mele: Because it's not helping.

Kruse: Right, and it's helpful to see successful people are continuing to struggle with all of these issues. That makes sense. Morra, your book again, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There. Where can our listeners find out more about you and your new book?

Aarons-Mele: See, I'm going to cultivate FOMO now. You can buy my book anywhere you like to buy books, on Amazon or in your local bookstore. You can find out about me at hidinginthebathroom.com.

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Kevin Kruse
CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE trial of the LEADx platform at https://page.leadx.org/demo.