By Nara Schoenberg
In her quest to avoid small talk and superficial socializing, Michaela Chung has resorted to a tactic that may surprise you.
She has signed up for organized groups.
When she was in high school, student council and a church youth group provided Chung with the kind of structured socializing and meaningful interaction that introverts prefer.
As an adult, she found her niche in meet ups for cocktail lovers and outdoor adventurers. She embraced the joys of competitive salsa dancing, both the dancing part and the socializing without the constant chatter part, and found new friends among her fellow dancers.
“Just because we’re introverts, it doesn’t mean we don’t like to meet people,” says Chung, 29, creator of the website Introvert Spring (www.introvertspring.com ). “It’s a matter of how much small talk can you endure to get to the good stuff.”
Not all of America’s estimated 80 to 160 million introverts embrace organized groups, and even those who do offer some caveats.
The introvert acceptance movement, which clicked into high gear with the arrival of the 2012 best-seller “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain, stresses that introverts, who typically think before they speak and draw energy from quiet, solitary activities, need not ape the boisterous back-slapping of extroverts to achieve success or happiness.
“Make sure that you honor your need to be alone and your energy levels are fully restored before you push yourself to join a group,” Chung says.
Yet organized groups offer numerous benefits, from improving skills, to expanding social networks, to broadening experiences. And in some ways, group activities are a natural for introverts, allowing them a chance to explore the interests they often pursue with great passion, and providing them with social settings that maximize their strengths as thoughtful listeners and well-informed enthusiasts.
“If you need to meet people, it’s a really good way to do it,” says Sophia Dembling, author of “The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World” (Perigree).
Still, some groups are better for introverts than others. Dembling looks for groups that are the right size: large enough that she can comfortably retreat into silence for a while if she wants to, but small enough to avoid overstimulation.
For her, about 10 to 20 people is ideal, although she would be willing to go smaller in the case of an activity like wine-tasting, in which the conversation is likely to focus closely on the group activity.
Dembling also suggests that introverts consider the format of the meeting. A speech or film followed by discussion can work well for introverts, who like to listen and get to know people slowly. A less structured group can open the door to lots of mingling and small talk, which introverts typically find unrewarding and uncomfortable.
Dembling says she enjoyed a writers’ group with six members, only one of whom she initially knew. Members would meet at a cafe, do writing exercises and then read them out loud.
“It was so much fun,” she says. “And the immediate feedback was great.” She gradually got to know the other members of the group, and found the amount of socializing, an hour or two at a time, worked well for her.
Dembling says that book clubs, theater groups, choral groups and athletic groups can all work well for introverts.
“I’ve always thought that improv sounds awful, but I’ve heard of introverts who like karaoke, which to me is a ‘shoot-me’ kind of thing,” Dembling says. “It just depends on what you love and trial and error, because we’re all really different.”
Organized groups such as the Denver Socializing Introverts Meetup cater specifically to people who don’t go in for big, noisy social outings but still want to make friends and have fun.
Organizer Scott Brukman says the group has gone from about 160 people to more than 1,200 in the past two years, with members turning out for museum and book events, low-key happy hours and coffeehouse gatherings.
Brukman, an introvert who originally went to the Meetup website to find a chess group, signed on as an introvert meetup organizer when he browsed the website and saw that the local introvert group was leaderless and in danger of shutting down.
“At the beginning, it was like a job interview or a date where you’re sitting outside with butterflies saying, ‘OK, deep breath,'” Brukman says of leading introvert gatherings. But, over time, his shyness has dissipated, and though he still needs quiet downtime to relax and recharge, he embraces his leadership role.
“There’s nothing like coming home and going, ‘Man, 50 people had a great time tonight because of me.’ Or to see people post comments: ‘Oh, I met so many great people. That was a lot of fun.’ It’s just satisfying to me. I’m a massage therapist, so for me, giving is important,” says Brukman, 51. “It’s the same sort of giving to others.”
“Introvert Power” author Laurie Helgoe was looking for like-minded friends when she took a life-writing class, which allowed her to meet friends slowly, and to get to know them through the significant life events they addressed in their writing.
Some of her friends from the class formed a writing group, which has been together for 10 years. The core group of about six is diverse, Helgoe says, but members share a common interest and support each other’s literary endeavors.
“They’re just my absolute best friends,” Helgoe says.
Tips for introverts on joining groups
Consider the alcohol factor: When choosing a group activity, keep in mind that more drinking can mean more loud and extroverted socializing.
Better late than never: If you dread the preprogram chitchat, arrive just when the meeting formally begins.
Don’t forget to linger: Introverts often like the aftermath of the meeting; there’s more meaningful one-on-one discussion, less idle banter.
Bring a friend: There’s nothing wrong with a little moral support, and you may find it easier to reach out to new people.
Sources: Laurie Helgoe, Sophia Dembling