too shy shy

16 July 2013

I think I have a marketing flaw. I am uncomfortable socializing in crowds of people who I don’t know.

I don’t like to go to galas, cocktail parties or other “business-related” or professional social gatherings with people I don’t know or don’t know well.

It seems that a common method of networking in business involves being in crowds with strangers or getting to know other people in those types of venues. I went to a networking event recently and sat quietly as it seemed everybody already knew each other. I don’t go golfing. I tend to avoid situations where there are “open bars” or the evening cocktail after work. This can be a real challenge for architects who are seeking larger, public or more visible projects. If you want to do work with the public, the public needs to know you exist if nothing else right? People like to talk and get to know others in casual situations. Relationships are fostered in casual situations.

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As I plan and ponder methods of seeking out new opportunities for interesting work I have to grapple with how I will primarily network with others. I do well one-on-one with people. When the scene is not a one-on-one setting (and I don’t know anyone), I am more comfortable when the topic of discussion is architecture. I believe I am more shy or quiet than anything else. Actually I would be disappointed to find out that someone misinterpreted that as snobby or self-centered.

I made comments recently on a blog where the author was discussing ways to benefit from AIA Conventions. I shared why I did not attend the AIA Convention this past year. When I attended the Convention many years ago, it wasn’t an experience that I found largely positive. I don’t find this the fault of the convention or the AIA; it has to do with interacting with people I don’t know. You have to push yourself to meet people. I went alone and when there were off-hour events, I am the type that prefers to be invited rather than just show up and mingle. Guess what, I went back to my hotel.

In my personal life I enjoy spending time with friends and family. And to be honest, I’m not afraid to admit that I’m most comfortable and most happy when alone with my own family.

As architects how should we effectively market in today’s business world? How do we make ourselves known in our communities and how do we make ourselves known on a broader level if we don’t spend time with people that we don’t know? How do we get to know the right people so they know us, trust us and will allow us to work with them on their projects? How can we land more visible, more challenging work if we are reclusive?

Many of us idealists would love to think that people will recognize our work and will hire us solely on the merits of the work. However, we all know that’s a naïve at best or limited viewpoint. It is not likely the method that most people get their work. Sure competitions exist and request for proposals or request for qualifications are methods for getting work. However we all know that in business, it’s about people getting to know people, the right people and getting to develop relationships. I find relationships incredibly important and I spend a lot of time developing them and nurturing them. I want people to be genuine with me as I with them.

You might think I need to force myself out of my comfort zone. Do I need to get over this or I am ok? Ooh, try a little harder?

What works for you? How did you get to know the people who brought you the most rewarding work?

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I extend my apologies for not writing for several weeks. I’ve been doing some thinking, some working and some vacationing. Hopefully, my head is starting to fill again of obscure observations and obtuse viewpoints about the world and practice of architecture.

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29 Responses to “too shy shy”


  1. I think many architects, myself included, fit this ‘mold’ more than they care to admit. Good post, nice to hear others have similar ‘issues.’

    • leecalisti Says:

      Being vulnerable at times is in some ways cathartic but it hopefully allows the public to get an honest opinion of us beyond the stereotypes.


  2. I could have written this post. When at seminars and trade shows I avoid loud the confusing environments and seek out one-on-one situations. My blog helps there too – people seek me out. I seem to have figured out a strong and approachable online persona. I find the best way for me to communicate is by doing non architecture related things with people. By working/playing alongside people, conversation is much more suited to my style.
    Play your strengths and work on your weakness but mostly recognize both.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Bob, I’m with you. I actually can sense your personality (positive) from reading your blog and seeing the one video you posted. I love conversations and once I am introduced to someone, I can talk their ear off. Sometimes our weaknesses are just our strengths taken to an extreme.


  3. Like Bob, i could have written this post. I am extremely uncomfortable around people i do not now and self-concious about interjecting when not invited. I tend to let others speak and am not forceful about getting myself heard. Which is not a bad trait necessarily, but makes it hard to get to be known by people in large crowd situations.

    You might be interested in my blog where i am chronicling my experiences at local farmer’s markets. I find setting up the booth a good way to start to get to meet people in a one-on-one situation.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Matthew, yes I’ve read your blog and the two chairs idea intrigued me. my current concern isn’t just to “get work”. after being in business on my own for 10 years, I am now looking to get interesting work or work that satisfies me more. I’d like more visible work or projects that can be visited by the public. I’ve done my share of SFR and a ton of additions. I am finding myself more frustrated with house additions right now. I want to project a great image and I want people to know I exist, especially businesses and decision making boards. however, “getting out there” at local gatherings, galas, ceremonies, etc. is something in which I am uncomfortable. sure I can attend, but if I don’t speak to someone, why go? In a week and a half I am going to speak at a local Barnes and Nobles bookstore giving a presentation with others about the new Lego Architecture line. In that venue I can hold my own.


      • First, thank you for reading my blog. It is always nice to hear someone is reading it.

        Secondly, i hear what you are saying. There is very little work that i have done for others over the past few years that i would want to use to market myself with. It seems i have to finance and build if i want to see projects that are more satisfying from a design stand point come to fruition. This means very small scale projects usually around my own house. I have considered developing my own projects, but i am still trying to get a firm grasp on the business side of being a sole proprietor Architect.

      • leecalisti Says:

        I have been very fortunate to have many really nice projects over the past 10 years. However, after they are complete, we obviously want another. Now after 10 years, I feel I need new challenges. I have commercial work and have done quite a bit of commercial work. However, the SFR additions are starting to bore me right now and they are very labor intensive. Yet I think it’s more about the design opportunities in the project that I’m looking for more than the building type. It’s comforting on some level that we’re all in this together.


  4. I feel the same way (and I know a lot of other architects do too)! Thanks for sharing the great post Lee. For me I think part of it stems from my fear of rejection, I take being told ‘no’ personally, although I know I shouldn’t.

    But it is hard to get out there and talk to people…

    • leecalisti Says:

      For being able to talk indefinitely about architecture, I find it difficult to “break the ice”. Once I start talking, I can go on and on. Then I am afraid I’ll talk too much. I also don’t like going into a crowd and not knowing anyone. If someone invited me and introduced me around, I’d be more at ease.

  5. jane Says:

    I volunteer. I also am no good in social situations. I do well working with others on a task.
    I also tell people I am happy to advise for free (for up to an hour). I am not a doctor, diagnosing – I am just helping people think more carefully about construction and design so they can get to the next point. Sometimes that leads to work, sometimes just to good will.
    Word of mouth has always been my best advertising.
    My most rewarding work is done with contractors and they often send clients to me. Home owners are often skittish about hiring an architect
    Phone conversation: timid voice ” Mike Smith says we need to talk to you.” Me, gentle voice, “and what did he say?”

    • leecalisti Says:

      I volunteer on my city’s HARB and with things at my son’s school. However, it seems so many people want to go to situations where they can have a drink (or two…). I find those situations very uncomfortable. I don’t know how to read people in those venues.

      • jane Says:

        agree about the liquor. wonder if its because I am female ( ie we go for coffee) and am passionate about old houses…
        In season I am a docent, help out at the library, especially the book sale, on a board for an historic site, just was asked to serve on a new organ committee as the representative of the building itself! That one surprised me.
        All those places give me a chance to chat while I am actually being helpful – so people get to know me a bit.


  6. I have also learned never to speak to people when I’m eating. Just can’t do it. Sometimes when at a convention, I end up stalking people I really want to talk to just to catch them alone and in a acoustically quieter zone. Ha ha! Also, an important trick is to get people talking about themselves. Then they think you are a great conversationalist even if you say nothing.


  7. Thank you for writing about this, Lee. I am shy as well, and I find it really difficult to approach people at an event and start talking. It makes marketing my new firm a real challenge. In fact, I started writing a blog post about marketing last night – how the marketing techniques that I’ve learned in business classes don’t seem to work very well for architects, and what techniques do work for us. So I’m really glad I found your post this morning!

    I also do artwork (prints and handmade cards). I started doing shows a few years ago to get myself out in public and to meet people. It is really tough to stand behind a table full of your work and watch people go by. I’ve recently decided to stop doing shows, primarily because of the stress of having to be outgoing when I’m really not.

    • leecalisti Says:

      I am finding this to be a common trait in us. All of the business things we’re told to do tend not to work with architects. It’s not because these things are sage advice, it’s just that architects have unique personalities that often don’t mesh with today’s business methods.

  8. Steve Says:

    I understand your point, but I am a very outgoing person and do not have to much problem meeting new people and I like to mingle around and talk with new and interesting people. I do look for those opportunities to break into conversations around me. On the other side though, my question would be do you find people like me sometimes a bother or wonder “why are they interjecting into my conversation”. There is a fine line in being to outgoing especially to a shy person. So where is the happy medium. Not really sure there is, but there have been too many times that I felt I missed out because I was not outgoing enough and did not make the connections I needed too. I guess I may have to make a post on my blog on the opposite end of the spectrum.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Steve, there is no simple answer to this. It would depend on the venue and how many drinks the person had to be honest. It also depends on whether the interjecting person is adding to the conversation or just speaking about themselves. The best thing a person like you can do is introduce the shy person to the group and stand back and let them blossom. There’s nothing worse than being introduced to a group of people who have known each other for a long time and then being “socially” forced to stand there and hear them yap about old times.


  9. Excellent article, and it definitely appeals to the profession as 90% of architects are introverts! There are ways to get what you want without feeling incredibly uncomfortable. In addition to your excellent blog, I also subscribe to Dharmesh Shah’s posts. He recently posted about how to get the most out of a conference when you’re an introvert. http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130625152538-658789-introvert-s-guide-to-getting-the-most-from-a-conference

    • leecalisti Says:

      Any tips for the local gatherings where you attend alone and there’s that moment when you walk in of whether you will know anyone? I get strange looks since I don’t drink.

      • jane Says:

        I feel foolish saying: tall glass of tonic or lemon something with ice and a slice of lemon… looks like you’re drinking. Bartenders know how to do this – You know this don’t you?
        Plan who you are looking for and 3 things you re going to ask that person.

  10. glennliptack Says:

    holy crap… i’m not the only one?

  11. Ray Says:

    VOLUNTEER!
    Lake clean up
    Street cleanup
    Salvation Army
    Every week or at least each month give of your time to make the place you live better.
    Don’t be an umpire, line judge, etc. just relax and enjoy you neighbors.
    Rotary Club, Lions Club, adopt a fire station etc.

    Give and you will receive


  12. Great post. I’m really only comfortable in very small groups or larger social situations where there is a purpose, something to do, a common task. I’m lucky that my early architectural and environmental volunteer work connected me with some people in my rural area that talk to lots of other people. I did some pro bono work when I started and the way I facilitated the volunteer committee meeting as well as the simplicity and budget conscious design has provided work over the past 22 years.

    I joined the local Rotary club and serve in positions that don’t require much face to face interaction, but I provide a link of reliable communication. The club fees add up. I haven’t had any significant projects that I can directly relate to fellow Rotary members, but I find some good outreach to community leaders and members that I think helps my face and name be known.

    I can’t imagine attending a convention, the noise alone would be completely overwhelming. I often wear ear plugs when in crowds to help with my sensory overload, and sunglasses dark enough to make strangers avoid eye contact.

    I think we come to architecture with gifts of sensitivity and technical understanding, with minds that can visualize in three dimensions. And part of the price of noticing this level of detail in building and when dealing with people’s dreams is noticing too much detail in busy situations.

    I also serve on one of our local historic landmarks committees and have served when asked on special planning project committees, which happens because I let the planners know I was willing and interested by engaging in respectful conversations when we disagreed.

    • leecalisti Says:

      It seems we have much in common, thanks for being honest. I read so often how we as architects are poor business people yet gifted in other areas as if the writer can’t understand that. One of the points of my blog is to share common traits of architects so people have a better understanding of how we think even if they can’t figure us out.


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