A professed introvert tells how the rise of online social networking tools is giving him and his fellow introverts a comfortable way to express themselves and connect with their communities.
In a meeting recently, an association membership director stated that her members over the age of 40 prefer face-to-face communication. While this may be true, I couldn't help but wonder: Is her organization's structure more friendly to those members who are more comfortable with, and thus prefer, face-to-face communication? If so, what happens to those who are more reserved, preferring other means of interacting and communicating?
These preferences may not be so much a function of one's age but rather one's inherent temperament—extroversion or introversion. This understanding provides important insights into how to engage greater segments of our members.
As an introvert, I live in my head a lot. I don't smile much, and I am quiet by nature. At meetings I sit back, I listen to various views, and only then do I speak. From my perspective, I am listening at a deep level, being thorough, diplomatic, precise, and an "anchor of reality," working toward making good decisions so everyone benefits.
New technologies are allowing a broader spectrum of our members to engage, particularly introverts.
Yet people often ask me if I am OK, if everything is all right, if I am upset, and so on. Others have thought, because I don't jump into conversations forcefully or frequently, that I am not engaged or that I lack leadership qualities. In today's 100-mile-per-hour, extroverted culture, to what degree are introverts overlooked and misunderstood?
With extroverted behavior being more prized in Western culture, programs are developed to be extrovert friendly, so it's easy to conclude that "our members over 40 prefer face-to-face meetings." Meanwhile, as we're seeing increasing use of electronic forms of communication, another conclusion is that these methods are taking over traditional means of interaction, particularly among those under 40.
I believe, however, that it's not so much a matter of traditional means being replaced. Rather, it's more that new technologies allow a broader spectrum of our members to engage, particularly introverts.
Think about it. Before we had online communication, primary modes of interaction included the telephone and face-to-face meetings. Each of these are more friendly to extroverts, who by nature prefer more verbal means of communication.
Now we have technologies that allow us to interact in real time via writing, such as listservers and social media, which are more introvert friendly and lead to more of us introverts becoming engaged. It's important to note that a significant portion of the human population consists of introverts. Thus, by having electronic communication tools, more of this member segment can become engaged. Of course, both styles use written mediums, but when it comes to general engagement, online technologies have given us introverts a significant boost.
In my own case, email and listservers served as an important turning point in my own career, involvement in ASAE & The Center, and ultimately business success. If it wasn't for listservers and other electronic media, I seriously doubt I would be as engaged in our community as I am today.
What does this mean for associations? While on the surface it may appear that more of our members are moving to online communications, it's also possible that because of online technologies, overall a greater percentage of our members are becoming engaged. And to maintain this, it's important for associations to embrace both traditional methods as well as new technologies.
Therefore, it's less a question of "either/or" than one of "and."
I believe this understanding is critical to organizational performance because so many introverts in our workplace constantly struggle to find their rightful place. It also means that we can now engage more of our members, regardless of their personal styles, and have them be more effective and feel more fulfilled in their own unique ways. And this will lead to stronger engagement, stronger retention, and stronger overall association growth.