Tis the season of goodwill. And I genuinely love Christmas. The decorations, the gifts, the carols, the food, seasonal movies and, best of all spending time with family. But it’s also the season I dread the most. It’s a time when industry peers, colleagues and acquaintances all want to get together for a shindig. Honestly, I’m not the Grinch or Scrooge BUT, I can’t tell you the dread I have at this time of year as I seek to find excuses to decline invitation after invitation to spend time with relative strangers. I mean, I know them obviously, but I don’t choose to connect with them on a personal level. You see, I’m an introvert. And if I were to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most introvert an introvert can be, I would be a 50!

The thing is, its not even that I can’t ‘play’ at being a convincing extrovert. I’m actually really good at it. I’ve worked in the events arena for the last 30 years and acting extrovert has become an art form for me. And maybe that’s the problem – everyone assumes I just ‘love a good time’. But when organising events my role is to connect other people rather than make connections myself and this is a role I’m infinitely more comfortable with than making small talk with a group of people that I literally have nothing in common with aside from the organisation(s) that bring us together.

I’m really aware though that this is an issue for me (heck I teach the importance of connections) and, determined to beat my networking demons, I’ve forced myself throughout the year to step outside my comfort zone, and make more meaningful connections, outside of my usual network.

Following Keith Ferrazzi’s advice in his best selling book ‘Never Eat Alone’, I’ve made more of an effort to engage in a wide range of networking events – not to sell but to learn and make new connections and I’ve fostered these connections through sending an occasional card or note or a further invitation to an event that’s of interest to both of us.

I’ve also taken the advice of Dana Rousmaniere from the Harvard Business Review’s Insight Centres and have imagined myself as a host at these events so that I take control of my situation rather than feeling like the lamb at the slaughter gates. And, to an extent, the strategies I have learned have worked – I have an enviable little black book of contacts that could provide very lucrative if I were that way inclined. But I’m not and now my endeavours during the year have just made things worse for me this holiday season. Double the invitations to negotiate my way out of!

Seeing my struggles, my coach put me on to a great book by Will Schutz called the ‘Truth Option’ and I have to say it was a real eye opener. Schutz breaks down our points of view (self-regard, truth and choice), our behaviours (inclusion, control and openness) and our feelings (significance, competence and likeability) in such a straightforward and pragmatic way that I came away determined this year to put his strategies into practice, ditch the excuses this Christmas and simply tell the truth. Through completing the exercises, I realised that where I have been labelling my introversion as a bad thing, I don’t have to define myself by this. It’s neither good nor bad – it just is. I do like making connections and being with people some of the time, but for me I prefer it less than others do and that’s OK. And the stress I feel at having to decline offers stems from the likeability factor. I don’t want people to think I dislike them by declining for no ‘sensible’ reason, because that would give them an excuse to dislike me! Crazy huh? This again comes back to labelling and an assumption I have made that avoiding group situations is an unlikeable trait.

So now to put it into practice.  I’m already 7 invitations down and, using strategies recommended by Trevor Bradbury, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, I do believe that I’m tempted to even accept one or two invitations. By recognising what I am saying yes to each time I say no, I can be authentic with my response and it also means that I can evaluate whether my no is really just an automatic and protective response or whether there really is an alternative activity that warrants my time and energy.  Maybe there is something to this season of goodwill after all!

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