The Introvert’s Guide to Creative Collaboration

By Bradley Little February 13th, 2020

Working with others is scary and weird for creative introverts. Calls zap the life out of us. Meetings with strangers are like nightmares. And networking—don’t even go there.

And yet, all of the above are essential parts of any worthwhile creative project. For better or worse, most clients demand regular, convincing displays of extraversion—be them in person, over the phone or on video conferences—to assure them that you’re competent, passionate and in the game.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to rewire yourself to excel in these settings. You just need a few strategies and the right outlook. Here are some tips to get started.

Overcome imposter syndrome

Much of the conversation around imposter syndrome at work tends to focus on full-time employees, but freelancers suffer from it too—sometimes more acutely. Whereas traditional employees tend to benefit from the positive feedback loops that come with working on teams, freelancers can go days, weeks or even months without much feedback at all. The result could be a cycle of self doubt and diminishment.

All told, some 70 percent of people suffer from imposter syndrome in one form or another. Alarmingly high, sure, but it tells us there’s a good chance the folks you collaborate with may be experiencing it too. If you’re intimidated by that client at a major company who needs to approve all your work or you’re worried she thinks you’re a total fraud, remember that at some point in her career, maybe even today, she has felt the same.

Knowing most people battle imposter syndrome only helps so much. The best thing you can do is take meaningful steps to counter the voices of self doubt. When you walk into a meeting, join a call, pitch something or have a difficult conversation, reset your thoughts. Repeat to yourself, “I have a right to be here,” and talk up your accomplishments in your head.

Other remedies include meditation, support groups and even therapy. The ladder is especially prudent if you feel like imposter syndrome is seriously hurting your career or relationships.

Humanize your clients and collaborators

During calls or meetings, use small talk to make the situation more comfortable. There’s a line in an old Regina Spektor song (throwback, but bear with us) that speaks to why this tactic is important: “People are just people, they shouldn’t make you nervous. […] People are just people like you.”

When you’re nervous going into a call, break the ice. Small talk helps you find connections but it will also get you out of your head. Comment on the weather. Yeah, it’s dumb. We all know it’s dumb. But it’s something anyone can talk about. Ask them how their morning is going. Ask them about their weekend. Do they have kids? Where do they live?

It really doesn’t matter what it is. The important thing is to see the people you’re talking to as just that—people.

Practice your pitch

Many creative introverts struggle to pitch themselves, defining what they do, how they bring value and what they do better than anyone else. You don’t need to have an over-rehearsed elevator pitch, but it’s important to be prepared to speak convincingly about these things.

Here’s a trick: Pretend like you’re talking about someone else. Hype yourself the way you’d hype a friend or an artist you love. What would you say about them? Why are they great?

It can also help to take a business lens to your pitch. Divorce it from you and your abilities and refocus on the results your services drive. Instead of “my writing is good because it’s crisp, lively and correct,” focus on what it does. “My writing can give your brand a friendly voice that people can relate to and feel safe buying from.” That way there’s no personal baggage or uncomfortable bragging in the mix.

Wow clients at nonverbal touchpoints

Creative introverts can balance their quiet nature by being loud in other ways.

One way to signal competence without verbalizing it is to make sure your portfolio is exceedingly impressive—that it touts your expertise in clear, desirable terms and that it beautifully showcases your work.

Email is another critical, not to mention frequent, touchpoint: Use it to show off your professionalism and organizational skills. It can also counter balance a lackluster call performance. Sending an email beforehand with an agenda, followed by a wrap-up with action items afterward, is a great way to reassure clients.

Let your passion do the talking

Remember. Extroverts need introverts. Non-creative people need creatives. Advertising, marketing and journalism are all methods of communication that introverts understand really well because it tends to be their preferred form of dialogue.

The ability to tell a story with images or the written word is a gift and don’t ever let yourself forget it. And even if you never take well to the “spotlight,” make sure your craft can speak for you.

Brad Little connects brands with creative freelancers in the Contently Talent Network and oversees the video pitching process at Contently.

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Photo credit: marzacz