How to connect with an introvert like me

How to connect with an introvert like me

My brother-in-law just died last week.

The news wasn’t completely unexpected, as he was ill with Parkinson’s disease. But we thought he was out of danger for a bit. Then, we received the phone call that things were getting worse. And an hour later, the message that he was gone.

Just like that.

62 years young.

Not fair.

He had so much more potential and was so well loved by friends, family, and co-workers.

Soon, there will be a celebration of his life.

Hundreds of people will attend the event. All will truly be missing him, and emotions will be running a bit wild and free. Lots of people will intensely crave connection, and yet be afraid of sharing too much, of breaking down and being vulnerable. Like a noisy convention with lots of casual connectivity, but with a strong longing for more.

That’ll be a veritable minefield for an introvert like me.

Some of my friends would be amazed to find out I’m an introvert. I’m not visibly hiding in the corners. At this upcoming event, I’ll be the one looking to engage with folks I barely know. But I’ll be trying to go deeper, and asking them how they knew him, what impact he had on their lives, and what their most meaningful connection with him was.

What will I say if asked those questions?

– He always made me feel welcome in his home and lakeside cabin.
– He took a genuine interest in what I was up to or thinking about
– He asked thoughtful questions, looking not to debate, but to explore and develop my ideas.
– And he gave awesome hugs—long ones, both firm and gentle.

Now don’t get the idea that he was a sensitive new-age guy. No way. He was a wiry, strong, determined, and successful construction contractor. He grew up in an orphanage, never borrowed a dime, worked hard and made his first million before he was 30.

He was a real man’s man.

Yet he connected deeply with me, one-on-one.

In the midst of very busy family gatherings, we would pull our chairs close together, clasping hot cups of freshly-brewed coffee in our hands. Heads close together (both because he had trouble speaking loudly and because of the intimacy it created in the loud space) we would connect, the rest of the room and the world dissolving away.

People with Parkinson’s need exercise, but they have difficulty getting moving. So he needed help to go for a walk. I don’t much like going for walks, but he would ask me quietly and gently if I wanted to go along. It was a personal request, not a demand. Somehow I always said yes.

How did he manage to get the results he needed?

He treated me as an introvert would want to be treated.

Many good managers and leaders could learn a lot from him:

– At family gatherings, he didn’t call me out unexpectedly
– He made the environment intimate
– He asked deep questions
– He made very little small talk
– He quickly got to the meat of the conversation
– His requests were deep and personal.

I hope that I run into more folks who understand that we are all individuals, and there are distinctly unique ways to connect with each of us.

I know I will miss him very much and in his memory, will try to treat everyone I meet they way they want to be treated, not they way I want to be treated.

That goes well beyond simple self-awareness into areas of deep listening and compassion, which I find is the basis of good management and leadership.

How are you doing at listening to yourself, to your team, and to those closest to you?  Do you know how they want to be connected with?


Further reading

Giving credit where credit is due. These are the articles and books I read that influence how I think about this topic:

Tips on managing how you network Dorie Clark

How to succeed on teams with extroverts. Jennifer Granneman

Great tips for managers looking to get the most out of their introverted team members – Diann Daniel

Managing introverts to get their great ideas out – Dr. Marla Gottschalk

Optimizing your introversion – Laura Pepper Wu

How to manage introverts – Caroline Dowd-Higgins

How to engage introvert team members – Ron Edmondson

Appreciating the Introvert – Lorna Hawtin

Quiet, Susan Cain

The Introvert’s Way, Sophia Dembling

Quiet Influence, Jennifer Kahnweiler

Photo credits:

DeathStock_NotStock5 © 2014 Death to the Stock Photo, CC BY 2.0

Me thinking… Vic Harder © 2014, all rights reserved


  1. Teresa Merryfield says:

    Please accept my sincere empathy during your time of loss and grief. I hope you are all able to be kind to yourselves as you work through this.
    Best regards.

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