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Sitting in the Back Row
Some thoughts on privacy, a prime concern of many introverts.
Years ago, a nicely dressed professional woman pulled me aside before the start of my single-session class on how to get a book published. “I wan to let you know I’ll need to leave early, because my job starts early in the morning,” she said. She then settled into the back row near the door. When her turn came to briefly introduce herself, the woman skipped giving her name, said she worked “in the media” and was considering a career change for which a book would be helpful.
None of that clicked until after she’d quietly left. Reflecting that her face had seemed familiar, I realized that she was S___ B___, the morning news anchor for one of the Boston TV stations. It didn’t seem like anyone in the class had recognized her, perhaps because she’d spoken from the back row in a soft voice with her head tilted a bit down. Several years after that night, I saw the first of several business books she published, and I learned that she had successfully retooled herself as a coach for CEOs.
Probably more was going on than wanting to be able to slip out early without being rude so she could get a full night’s sleep. S___ B___ probably also wanted to avoid triggering personal comments from other class members who saw her on TV and felt they knew her. She may also have wanted to keep a low profile because in some people’s minds, learning anything new implies a vulnerability inconsistent with a leadership image.
That incident came back to me numerous times when introverted clients complained to me about what they felt were intrusions on their privacy in various business settings. One man had enrolled in a course where everyone had to sign up by their LinkedIn profile. “I’m considering dropping out of the class,” he told me. “I want to address the subject matter of the course, but there’s pressure to share personal information. I’m not comfortable sharing my situation and feelings with people I don’t know who can link what I’m saying to my business. Why couldn’t we participate anonymously?”
Another time a client vented to me that someone she was thinking of collaborating with on a project tweeted to thousands of his followers that the two of them had just had a planning lunch. “He wanted to take a picture of us before we left the restaurant, and I said no, but he never said he was going to write up our lunch for Twitter!” she protested. “He rolled his eyes and seems to think my boundaries are ridiculous. I would be fine for him to announce it when we finalized a deal, but beforehand? No. I really don’t want to work with him any more.”
Still another time it was I, contacting a local meditation teacher after I’d had a health scare that I wanted to keep to myself. Instead of signing up for a credentialed expert’s eight-week learning group, I hired him to teach and guide me one on one. “Please don’t tell anyone I’m doing this with you, OK?” I asked. Although he agreed, I got the feeling that he saw this as a peculiar request. I simply felt more comfortable keeping my local business identity separate from personal circumstances.
I don’t know whether S___ B___ was an introvert or an extrovert, but I do know that every time someone has expressed a strong concern for privacy to me, this has gone along with a back-row personality. That is, the person didn’t like to brag, blab, go up to strangers or push themselves on others. Many introverts prefer to communicate information about themselves only to intimates or those who truly need to know. When we do go public, we prefer it to happen when and how we choose. Extroverts often find these preferences baffling. Some put a cultural or political spin on the issue – “Privacy is dead, so just get over it” – while others regard unlisted phone numbers, the guarding of personal data or avoiding sharing on social media as neurotic.
We introverts have a right to sit in the back row, where we can relax, observe and not be encroached upon or forced out of our comfort zone.