Sunday, March 23, 2014

An Introvert's Guide to Diplomacy

It's been pointed out to me on several occasions how ironic it is that a dedicated introvert such as myself is a public diplomacy officer. In truth, it's really not that ironic. First, let me clarify a few things about what it means to be an introvert.

Interacting with people - even people whose company I enjoy - is draining. What may seem like "stand-offish" is really just conserving energy and being selective about my interactions.

I'm more comfortable with silence than I am with meaningless chatter. I'll speak up when I have something to say and when I'm done, I'll stop talking.

Boring people bore me and I'm not very good at hiding it. If interacting with people is draining, feigning interest in a boring story is practically debilitating.

What does all of this mean in the context of public diplomacy, where social situations are part of the job? It's easier for me to approach an official diplomatic function as a task with clear objectives rather than a social event. Whom do I need to meet? What information do I want to learn? Who needs to be introduced to whom?

For some people, chatting up strangers is an important part of public diplomacy. Not for me. But being a bad chatty Kathy means I'm a pretty good listener, which can be a useful, if underestimated, public diplomacy skill. 


Unknown said...

Well that explains a few things.

joelhar said...

I am a naturally outgoing guy. My boss, however, is almost painfully shy. When she hired me she expressed sincere pain from her two previous hires, they deserted her and basically undermined her while in her employ. Looking at her I read that little thought bubble above her head "please don't desert me?" Yesterday is a good example of how I operate now. I prep her for the guest she is about to meet, what he likes, his background and why is important to her. I give her one or two topics they have in common and then leave to retrieve the guest. Yesterday it was a US Congressman, of her district who also has a background in technology. I introduced both in glowing terms, after 'wearing down', oops, putting the Congressman at ease first. Not once did I seek attention. She got an inordinate amount of face time, he now has a healthy interest in her and her program.

Perhaps you need someone like me to change your perspective? Social occasions can have more than one objective and can result in some surprising outcomes!

Ally said...

Heather, I absolutely get this. I have become more introverted as I've gotten older, to the point where I'm exhausted by interacting with people after a short amount of time and I'm much happier alone. I've had several people tell me they thought I was bitchy because I kept to myself or didn't say much. It's very difficult at work to constantly decline invitations to go out to lunch or after work, but the truth is, I'd rather be alone. I hate that people to think I'm anti-social or snobbish, but I'm sure I come across that way. Introverted does NOT mean anti-social! I'm glad someone else gets that. :)

SAC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SAC said...


I am yet another young(...ish) person who is interested in your advice about a FSO career.

What I'm mostly concerned about at the moment is what career track to declare before signing up for the test. However, I see from your blog that you've lived in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which are places I would be interested in being posted.

I did study Egyptian Arabic for a couple of years back before 2000, but haven't ever used it professionally. Despite many suggestions that I apply for work at NSA, the CIA, or the FBI, I've never wanted to work any of those places. It's not that I mind what they do, it's just that it's not what I have wanted to do. I've realized as I've started looking at the State Department that this is really what I was looking for: I believe in diplomacy, and I love to travel.

Anyway, it appears that you are pretty busy at the moment, but IF you felt up to writing an email or two, or even to a phone conversation, I would be so thankful. My email address is corneliaphilosophene at gmail (you know the rest-- trying to avoid spambots).

Thank you!

S. A. Cox

Anonymous said...

Hi, As an aspiring PD officer and fellow introvert, I am wondering if you have any advice on passing the OA?

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