Back in 1915, just before the Spanish Flu pandemic, T.S. Eliot wrote: “There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” The bespectacled 20th-century poet had no idea, but he was describing precisely how we feel, during our pandemic, as we click the tiny Microsoft Teams video camera and steel ourselves… for yet another damned online meeting.
I’m talking about those anxious few seconds felt, and felt strongly, by all introverts as we prepare for the daily shows of professionalism we’ve been forced to deliver in our remote present. Zoom fatigue is real—and it’s a real problem.
Those who generally opt out of the limelight, who strive to remain out of the frame, find being forced to livestream themselves unsettling. And since introverts make up an enormous number of us—Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says that introverts make up at least one third to half of all Americans—this is significant.
So: Do you dread the daily 9 a.m. check-in call? As a sometimes introvert myself, I feel you. But as a long-time social mediator, I can help. Here’s some advice for introverts who've been forced to interact with others in endless Teams meetings and Zoom calls: Use. The. Chat. Feature.
The extroverts in your world will happily flip on their cameras and dominate the conversation. Let 'em. Let’s be honest, you’re not the type to talk over them—and that’s just fine. In fact, you can be in a superior position to the talkies. Your outgoing colleagues are basically actors who must always share the scene with the next extrovert, fighting for control of the stage. By establishing yourself as the definitive chat commentator, you’re not a mere actor but the person who is providing the subtext for the whole conversation—the way in which the voice of the director guides the director’s cut of a movie. It’s amazing how few people bother to use the chat strategically.
Put your energies into writing intelligent, relevant commentary. Really think before you type. Find the right words. You have an editorial advantage over other Zoomers here because you can preview your responses before they go public. To encourage your revisionary process, it can help to keep a Word document open, during an online conversation, where you can polish up your words until they’re truly ready for their public debut. I think here about novelist Virginia Woolf, who “approached the diary as a kind of R&D lab for her craft.” Run a few experiments before leaping into the chat window.
Keep in mind that typed words are much less evanescent than spoken ones and, unlike spoken ones, they persist in the chat window. A chat comment acts as a sort of billboard for your otherwise unspoken point-of-view—it remains in view after everyone says their piece—and because of this, it has an undue influence on the mindset of those in the chat.
Your chatty comments can, and sometimes should, be repurposed. Chat can be more than a momentary improvisation. Do an excellent job with your responses and then collect your chatter and turn it into a blog post or byline. In a way, the chat forum can act as your public digital notebook. If you look at chat as the first draft of a more polished piece, it might just push you to think harder and more boldly when you type.
Don’t love being shoved into a conversation with 37 other people? You can direct your written words at a specific person. Such one-on-one conversations can be considerably more relational, not to mention honest and funny, than those digital scrums that are the vast majority of Zoom calls.
Don’t limit yourself to chat! Once you master the art of the chat with colleagues and clients—go wandering around the four corners of the digital ecosystem. Don’t confine yourself to Teams chat with your team. Take your wit and wisdom out into the internet’s vaunted social media environments and create some new weak ties for yourself. In some ways, this remote communication was built for the introverted spirit.
Moral of the story: Don’t let our new remote way of life get you down. Don’t let extroverts have all the fun, and win all the glory. Make chat into your platform and take control of the conversation. Do you dare?