The Quiet Strengths of Introverts: ALCTS President's Program featuring Jennifer Kahnweiler

By Shannon Tennant, Elon University

The ALCTS President's Program at ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas featured Jennifer Kahnweiler, "champion for introverts." Hundreds of librarians gathered in the room to hear Jennifer speak at 9:30 am on Monday, June 30. Despite being a self-confessed extrovert, executive coach and speaker Jennifer Kahnweiler gave a dynamic and interactive program about the strengths of introverts. Kahnweiler began by asking for a show of hands by all the introverts in the audience – and there were a lot! She clarified that introversion is not good or bad, but rather about energy. Introverts are energized from within, by thinking and spending time in their heads. Extroverts, by contrast, are energized by people. Even if they are not in positions of power, introverts can get their ideas across by using what Kahnweiler calls “quiet influence.”  Kahnweiler organized her talk into three points:

  • Why quiet influence is right for now
  • How quiet influencers do what they do – six strengths and how to use them
  • The absolute impact of quiet influence

Kahnweiler demonstrated the power of quiet influence by asking the audience to think about someone who had made a big impact in their lives with very little fanfare.  She compared these people to pebbles thrown in a pond, which cause ripples that without knowing it. 

Kahnweiler identified five challenges that introverts face in the typical workplace: 

  1. People exhaustion. An introvert needs time away from people to recharge. 
  2. Fast decisions. The perceived need for instant decisions can be a challenge for reflective introverts. 
  3. Teams. Many places now have work teams for everything, which do not offer introverts the solitude they need for reflection and creative thinking.
  4. Sell yourself. There is a culture of self-promotion in many workplaces, and introverts are reluctant to boast about their accomplishments.
  5. Put on a happy face. Introverts are not loudly cheerful like extroverts, but that does not mean they are depressed.

Kahnweiler stressed that there is a long learning curve for extroverts to learn what it’s like to be an introvert, and vice versa. But the key is awareness. Kahnweiler went on to list the six key strengths of introverts:

  1. Taking quiet time
  2. Preparation
  3. Engaged listening
  4. Focused conversations
  5. Writing
  6. Thoughtful use of social media

She then delved more deeply into two of these, engaged listening and the use of social media.

Engaged listening gives its practitioners a chance to build rapport and to understand people’s concerns at a deeper level. Kahnweiler organized a lively demonstration with Erica Findley and Daniel Lovins of the ALCTS planning committee to illustrate the incorrect and correct ways to listen. Engaged listening required paying attention, making eye contact, and not making it all about the listener. Kahnweiler warned that overusing a strength can make it a weakness. If you listen too much and do not share your ideas, other people will not know where you stand and might overlook your input. Listening too much also can make you the recipient of too many confidences, making it hard to get your own work done. Kahnweiler’s listening tips were to focus when listening. Turn off other thoughts and be present in the moment, and ask yourself what you can learn from the other person, even if it’s what not to do.

The second strength that Kahnweiler analyzed was the thoughtful use of social media. Social media is here to stay, and can allow introverts to reach a broad and diverse audience. Effective use of social media shows people what they have in common, and humor can be a powerful tool.  Kahnweiler gave some examples of librarians who use blogs, websites, and tweeting to share their ideas. Social media can be overused. There is a risk of addiction, and often people use media to express only their own thoughts and never engage in dialogue with others. But anyone not using social media now is missing out. Kahnweiler’s tips for using social media thoughtfully were to try it for 15 minutes a day. Try to listen and learn, use tools to organize and filter the information, and post regularly. 

In conclusion, Kahnweiler engaged with the audience by asking them to share a challenge and the quiet influence solutions they planned to take.