It is possible that there will be more extroverts than introverts at September’s CMCP Annual Conference, but I doubt it. Although I can’t say this with complete certainty, my guess is that the 80/20 rule that applies to so many things in life also applies to lawyers. I would estimate that 80% of the lawyers I have coached are introverts. It probably won’t surprise you that the remaining 20% who are extroverts are mostly litigators. While you may assume that many of your CMCP colleagues are extroverts, you might be surprised to learn that some of the people who seem comfortable at networking events or have leadership positions on committees or the board are actually quite introverted, but are demonstrating “Free Trait Theory” in action.

I learned about Free Trait Theory in Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Evidently, some of the characteristics that we think of as fixed, such as introversion and extroversion, can be more flexible. In Cain’s words, “introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.” This change in behavior is not something to be taken lightly. It works best when people are “involved in core personal projects that we consider meaningful, manageable, and not unduly stressful, and that are supported by others.”

How does this relate to business development, especially to the upcoming CMCP conference? You might guess that introverts are not wildly enthusiastic about attending networking events, and you would be correct. However, once introverts have a strategy for these events, they can be quite effective at making connections, one at a time. While the extroverts have an edge initially in meeting more people, they don’t always have patience for the less exciting follow up activities needed to develop relationships over time. And if you have read my previous columns, you know that your success at business development depends on building trusted relationships, especially with those who may be quite different from you.

When Introverts and Extroverts Have a Conversation

In “Quiet,” Cain discusses an experiment that was done by Avril Thorne, a developmental psychologist. Twenty-six introverts and twenty-six extroverts were assigned to conversational pairings, once with their own type and once with the opposite. The results may surprise you:

“But the most interesting part of Thorne’s experiment was how much the two types appreciated each other. Introverts talking to extroverts chose cheerier topics, reported making conversation more easily, and described conversing with extroverts as a ‘breath of fresh air.’ In contrast, the extroverts felt that they could relax more with introvert partners and were freer to confide their problems. They didn’t feel pressure to be falsely upbeat.”

This sounds like an invitation to seek out the opposite type at your next networking event.

Preparing for the CMCP Annual Conference

I know that those of you who are extroverts are excited about being surrounded by hundreds of people for two full days. For introverts, this could be a daunting experience. The good news about the CMCP conference is that you don’t have to be “on” for the entire two days. There are sessions where you can sit quietly and absorb information, interspersed with networking time. The attendees are probably the friendliest lawyers you will ever meet, and everyone is there to make connections. Let’s not overlook one of the most important aspects of this group of people: everyone at this conference is committed to increasing diversity in the legal profession. You already have something in common with all of the attendees. That alone can be the basis for deep conversations.

Here are a few suggestions for getting yourself ready for the conference.

  • Before the conference: Find out who is planning to attend from your firm and what client companies will be there, especially if you are signed up for Corporate Connections.
  • Set manageable goals for the conference. This may be as simple as having one great conversation with someone new during each segment of the conference.
  • Pace yourself. Make sure to schedule quiet time during and after the conference. Introverts can get physically tired from engaging in conversations with new contacts. You may want to take short breaks by yourself several times each day.
  • Commit to following up after the event. Block out time on your calendar now for the week of September 30th.