Confessions of an Introvert

I am, by nature, on the introverted side of the scale. Many coaches tell me that is true for them as well. Introverts find marketing more difficult than extraverts. At least, that is what they may expect. After a career of building a thriving executive coaching business from nothing, I’d like to do a little myth busting by sharing some stories. Introverts can be great marketers.

Let’s review what introvert means. It simply means that we “refuel” by having time to ourselves. Big social gatherings are not our preferred evening out. We like time at home, or with a small number of friends. We are likely to be introspective, a good trait for a coach. (A coach without self-awareness is a disaster.) Introvert does not mean that we lack social skills. We are able to establish rewarding, deep relationships with people. We just don’t have to be with them all the time.

One of the driving forces for me is that I love to hear people’s stories. I find them fascinating. That trait contributed to success in my twenty-five year career as a psychotherapist, and then in my two decade long career as an executive coach/organizational consultant. I love to hear and think about how people got to be who they are, what resources have helped them along the way, and, with coaching clients, where they may feel stuck right now.

The stories that follow revolve around my striking up conversations with people to hear their stories. Many introverts feel unskilled at small talk. I can do it. I just find it boring. So this post is not going to encourage you to learn how to chatter. Instead, it is going to encourage you to use skills you already have as a coach by telling you a series of stories. I like to call myself the “master of dumb luck” when sharing these stories, but in reality, while luck is a factor, it is more than that.

The Wedding Planner: Our friends’ daughter was engaged to be married. We went to the engagement party. The parents had hired a wedding planner (WP). I happened to wander into her path, and we had the following conversation:

Dana: “What did you do before you became a wedding planner?”

WP: “I still do it. I’m an HR consultant.”

Dana: “Huh! I’m kind of in that field. What led you to stop?”

WP: “Actually, I still do it, but I just have one client. It is a healthcare system in Michigan.”

Dana: “Really, I was born in Michigan.”

WP: “It’s in Kalamazoo.”

Dana: “I was born in Kalamazoo.”

WP: “It’s Bronson Hospital.”

Dana: “I was born at Bronson Hospital.”

WP: “What is it you do again?

Dana: I told her.

WP: “You’re kidding! Last week I promised Bronson I would find an EQ expert to work with their senior leadership. I had no idea where I’d find one!”

Maybe she was the master of dumb luck too. All I know is that I got a wonderful two-year engagement, starting at an engagement party, and she fulfilled an important promise to a client.

London: We were in London for a speaking engagement that we turned into a vacation. One day, we toured the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, and then went to sit in Green Park nearby. It was a beautiful day in June. After a few minutes, a man came to sit on the other end of “our” bench. At first, I was annoyed. But good manners got the better of me, and I engaged him in a conversation:

Dana: “Beautiful day.” (I told you I CAN do small talk.)

Guy on Bench: “Yes, it is. Where are you from?”

I told him I was from Roanoke, Virginia, in the US,  and then asked about him.

Guy on Bench: “I work down here during the week and then return home to Edinburgh on the weekends.”

Dana: “Oh. What do you do?”

Guy on Bench: “I’m a member of Parliament.”

So, of course, we chatted about Parliament for a few minutes, sharing that Peg and I had gone to observe a couple of days before.

Then, London being London, it began to rain.

Guy on Bench: “I have an umbrella. Let’s go back to Parliament, and we’ll have tea in the Members’ Dining Room.”

And so we did. While that didn’t turn into a consulting opportunity, it came close, closer than it would have, had I not engaged him in conversation. (We did exchange a series of emails.) And it was a wonderful experience, one we will never forget. On that same trip, Peg met Prince Charles (it was 2007, so he wasn’t king yet) for three minutes as he came out of a public event. Right place. Right time.

The Virgin Hotel: The workday in Nashville was over. Peg and I went down to the bar to get drinks but it was very crowded. We agreed I would go up to the bar, get drinks, and we’d take them to our room. A man graciously invited me to come up beside him at the bar, making room.

Dana: “What brings you to Nashville?”

Gracious Man: “I’ve brought my international leadership team here for a retreat.” He showed me pictures of their meeting.

Gracious Man: “What about you?”

Dana: “I am working with Vanderbilt University Medical Center as an executive coach.”

Gracious Man: “We’ve tried to introduce coaching into our company but it didn’t take.”

Dana: “That isn’t unusual. It depends on how coaching is introduced and set up.”

Gracious Man: “How so?” So I said two or three sentences. We were chatting at a bar, and he was being friendly. This was not a time for a hard sell.

Dana: “So what do you do?”

Gracious Man: “I’m the president of (insert world famous music company here). I get to meet with stars of our industry. I’m meeting with (insert name of famous singer here) next week.”

We exchanged contact information. We still keep in touch.

On that same trip, we also met one of the finalists for that season’s The Voice. All because we stuck our necks out and talked to people.

Moral: (a) We coaches are in the relationship business. (b) The best way to build our businesses and gain credibility is through relationships. (c) One way to do that is to simply be a decent human being – start a conversation with someone. As I tell coaches whom I train, you probably missed two opportunities over the past month, and didn’t even know it.

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