In this article we explore the wonder of introverts: what you should know and why you should care. We focus on leveraging the strengths of introverts at work to develop more engaged, productive and happy workplaces.
The world loves extroverts; those charismatic, charming, outgoing, confident individuals whose voices insistently and persistently demand to be heard.
Not so a positive set of descriptors have been given to introverts whose most common labels include passive, overly cautious, wall-flowers who hold back and give little away in conversation.
It’s no wonder that introverts may consider their talents, effort and time as not being as valuable as their extroverted counter-parts.
But, the truth is: introverts matter.
Let me tell you a story.....
I was delivering a short workshop the other day to a group of ladies.
95% of the ladies attending were introverts.
Within 5 minutes of starting to work with them, I realised that my normal approach of starting out with my usual levels of high energy and enthusiasm would be a real put off for them.
So, I had to consciously slow down my rate of speech, allow time for reflection and discussion in small groups and when asking questions, to give longer pauses to allow them to absorb what I was asking, before I asked individuals to share insights.
I also had to affirm myself.
My extroverted style also happens to be a people style.
And my style naturally feeds off feedback and input from others. When working with introverted styles, I recognise that this is not something that comes naturally.
So, rather than seeing the blank faces and lack of input as disinterest, boredom or disagreement, which can activate a threat response in me, I have to affirm to myself that I am doing a great job and they are taking what they need from the session.
I also make a note to be on hand for any questions they may have for me during the breaks.
It felt like hard going for me, but I persisted and kept up my energy. At the end of the workshop, I had a number of ladies come up to me to thank me for my insights and share with me how much they got from the day.
I have continued to receive positive feedback weeks later from these ladies.
Does this sound familiar to you?
It’s a pattern I’ve seen again and again in my workshops over the past 20 years.
How Introverts Help Extroverts
As I’ve shared, I am extrovert first and foremost.
I used to find it hard to speak with and feel accepted by those quieter folk in my classes whose stoic expressions gave little away as to what was going on beneath the surface until I took the time to get to know them.
Being expressive and naturally open, I found it difficult to comprehend how anyone would want to hold back or even why.
I found it difficult to connect with the idea that they didn’t want or see the need to speak up at every opportunity and share their thoughts with everyone. It’s simply not a part of my nature.
As someone who thrives on feedback and input, I actually thought they hated what I was saying.
However, as I have matured, I have noticed that some of my best friends are those whose calming, more quiet and thoughtful response to the world are the people whom I feel most drawn to.
And, I have noticed that when I am able to recognise I am speaking with introversion styles, consciously lowering my enthusiasm levels (not my enthusiasm!) and slowing my rate of speech, I can be “heard” by my more thoughtful counterparts.
And, more often than not, my obvious interest and genuine concern and caring for their needs was what won them over to “my side”.
Are You An Introvert?
As a rough guide, you are an introvert if:
You prefer spending time alone or with one or two close friends, especially when tired.
You concentrate best when alone, and often give the impression of being quiet, calm and even mysterious.
You feel that you gain energy and strength from being alone.
The Extrovert vs Introvert Continuum
Rather than seeing extroverts and introverts as two separate styles, I’d suggest that these are 2 types of behaviours that rest at two opposite sides of a continuum.
So, think about the continuum as representing you right now.
All of us have both these styles as a part of us. The reason is because most of us are a combination of our own natural style and the opposite style because you have had to learn it in order to socially interact with others and get ahead in work and life.
One of the simplest ways to frame the difference between introverts and extroverts is this:
An introverted person wants to understand, and an extroverted person wants to act
What’s useful is for you to identify your natural versus your learnt style.
Because in order to come from a place of strength, you need to know what energises you versus what drains you.
I’d suggest that because most of us have had to learn the opposite style, we unconsciously know how to use it. HOWEVER we feel drained and tired if we have to use it too much.
According to Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World:
“Most introverts are very good at behaving like extroverts. A lot of us are out there behaving as extroverts ... but then we have to shut it down. I call it my ‘dog and pony show.’ But then you have to be quiet and regain your energy for the next time. The longer I’m out there putting on the show, the longer I need to recuperate.”
When you are able to use your strength, you feel energised by the experience.
By recognising whether you are one or the other, will allow you to consciously make better decisions on how you will spend your time and help you adapt your approach when working with colleagues.
It’s important to point out that some of us are better at moving up and down the continuum than others. This is neither wrong nor right, it simply is.
The Comparison Killer
As a behavioural specialist in adult education, I consider the way we interact with each other to be infinitely fascinating.
No one style is better than the other.
We bring different talents and gifts from each of these style bases which together help businesses and relationships to flourish and grow, driving innovation and creativity – both crucial components for competitive advantage in business.
The idea that we compare ourselves to each other is dangerous on all sorts of levels. Extraverts and Introverts are no better or worse than the other.
The problem in comparing one against the other is that we will never be as good, as clever, as thoughtful, kind, insightful, creative ....and so the list could go on.
Introverts have been given short-thrift to make way for the exuberance of extraverts. There is no doubt that introverts have a lot to bring to any organisation and it’s important that if you are one, that you are able to recognise this.
Check out a great video from Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution and the author of the bestsellers Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking which supports what I’ve expressed here:
Some Famous Introverts
Being an introvert doesn't mean you should let your light shine under a bushel. Take some inspiration from introverts who have made a real difference in the world, overcoming their natural shyness to shine:
A Simple Yet Powerful Solution: Measure Standards NOT People
When you recognise and use your strengths, you are coming from a much more positive place than if you are trying to work on your developmental areas.
Developmental areas are not fun because they are NOT our strengths; therefore we have to use a lot more energy which can be draining and not as much fun.
When you come from a place of strength and set standards to continue to improve this strength, then you can really start to gain focus and see growth in your life.
Marcus Buckingham, leader of the Strengths Revolution, gives the example of super golfer Tiger Woods and English soccer star David Beckham:
Tiger Woods knew that his bunker play was poor. Once he made sure that it reached acceptable levels, he focused totally on his dominant strength, his swing.
Explaining how English soccer star David Beckham hit a 35 yard shot to beat Equador 1-0, Buckingham says that he had become so overwhelmingly good at bending long range free kicks into the net that this one strength virtually defined his entire role.
He calls this “rarefied specialisation” and advises emulating it in the management world.
Buckingham has written extensively on how silly it is to correct a weakness at the cost of building a strength. Find out more about him here
Both introversion and extroversion have positive and negative characteristics.
Rather than focusing on what we lack, if you can learn to identify and work to your strengths, then you have a far better chance of achieving your milestones.
Simply because you will enjoy the journey so much more and this excitement, enthusiasm and focus will prompt you to keep doing more of it. You’ll see progress and gain momentum.
The Business Case for Introverts: Why Introverts Matter
We’ve established that the amount of attention that is given to the loud, outspoken styles whose energy seems limitless is not an accurate yardstick for success, no matter what the media tell us.
I get approached regularly by students asking me to give them coaching around their introversion so that they can learn to be more “extroverted.”
What I tell them is that they are beautiful just the way they are.
And, rather than trying to change their style, they would be better served learning to adapt their style in those situations that call for it.
Here’s 4 Reasons Why Introversion is such a Critical Component of Workplace Success:
In the work space, we increasingly have to deal with the struggle with juggle. The impatience and action-orientation of extraverts is not always appropriate to the work that needs to get done.
The salient point here is that we all need peace, quiet and to slow down in order to access our "flow" at work. However, this is something that for introverts is a lot more natural. The following are four reasons why introversion is critical in today's fast-paced environments:
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
The phrase "slow and steady wins the race," comes from the internationally recognised Aesop's Fable "The Tortoise and the Hare." It is a story of two unequal partners who have a race. The story is used to illustrate that consistency and perseverance outweigh speed
Small, measured steps made towards a goal are better than erratic, stop and start attempts to get ahead
There is no shortcut for success and there is no alternative for hard work. There are many instances in history where ordinary people rose to fame through patient toil of many years.
History also tells us of many brilliant people who failed because they lacked patience and perseverance: Demosthenes stammered AND still he became the greatest orator of ancient Greece through his persistent effort. Steady and patient work brings success.
Many employers value classic introvert approaches — a calm, measured and thoughtful attitude both toward work projects and interactions with colleagues.
Without strong impulsive tendencies, you consider your actions and others’ opinions rather than acting first and thinking later. You listen carefully then develop your ideas independently, with reflection
One Step at a Time
It takes time for creating important things or doing important tasks.’
The proverb by Vincent van Gogh: "Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together" teaches us to be patient while doing or accomplishing big tasks.
Big achievements and success in life are the result of persistent efforts and hard work over a long period: introverts have the natural energy and foresight needed to get important stuff done in a way that may seem outwardly slow and pedantic.
Taking longer to answer questions is not a personality flaw, but means that you’re making more mental connections and your answers are likely to contain more substance
Introverts are capable of great focus, which comes in handy when completing pretty much any task that requires extended periods of concentration (advanced mathematics, writing, art, science, etc.).
Deeper, More Meaningful Relationships
Without the pressing need to be sociable or gain attention and approval, you can spend time on relationships and close friendships, which are often more profound than those shared by extroverts.
Better Long-Term Decision-Making
A thoughtful approach to a situation allows you space to make good decisions more often than not.
Introverts embody the old adage “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason”. From an emotional intelligence point of view, this comes in handy when making decisions because the best decisions are made with multiple inputs and introverts are good at listening and processing vast amounts of information from different perspectives.
10 Advantages of Being an Introvert
Introvert Advantages, a site for the book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, has a list of top ten advantages of being an introvert.
Here are the Top Ten Advantages Introverts Possess:
Studious and Smart
Analytical Skills that Integrate Complexity
Creative, out the box thinking
Strong ability to concentrate
Maintaing long-term friendships
Work well with others - especially in one-to-one relationships
6 Misconceptions about Being an Introvert
In her article, 6 Misconceptions about Introverts to Stop Believing, Carolyn Gregoire shares 6 myths about introverts and why they are so wrong
1. All introverts are shy - and all shy people are introverts.
2. Introverts don't like to be around people.
3. Introverts don't make good leaders or public speakers.
4. Introverts have more negative personalities.
5. Introverts are more intellectual or creative than extroverts.
6. It's easy to tell whether someone is introverted or extroverted.
Let’s face it; it’s easy to believe the worst about people based on our personal biases and misunderstandings about those who are different to us.
Hopefully by learning more about ourselves, we can start to accept and open ourselves to the possibilities that introverts are simply different to extroverts and have their own set of strengths we should take advantage of.
Six Ways to Be Your Best as an Introvert
Learn to speak up in social interactions. The more you do this, the more people notice and respect your voice. And, the more confident you will start to feel that your voice is valuable.
Learn to accept your shyness and don’t’ use it as an excuse not to engage. Most people, whether extroverts or introverts can relate to feeling awkward in situations, so know it’s ok to talk about it.
Give yourself permission to say no. In the workplace, it’s simply not possible to say yes to every request that comes across your desk AND meet your priority areas.
Reach out. Choose people you know, like and trust to ask for feedback on how you are going. A supportive network will help you to grow and challenge your fears, in a gentle, non-threatening way.
Affirm yourself. No one else has quite the set of talents, perspectives, history and experiences that you do. No one else on the planet thinks in exactly the same way as you do. Be quietly bold.
Choose outgoing and confident people who you admire to learn and copy from – over time these skills will become more natural and a part of you
Summing It All Up:
Extroverts and Introverts are both invaluable parts of a continuum, which if used purposefully and from a strengths-based perspective, complement each other
Learning to recognise your and other’s natural energy will allow you to better harness time, relationships and make better decisions
Learning to work with your natural style is far better and more rewarding for you than trying to develop skills that are not naturally yours
There are a number of myths and misconceptions that we have busted once and for all –
Which do you think are most relevant to you and how could this help you at work?
Drop me a line in the comments section below and let me know your thoughts.....
Until next time, I will
See you at the top,
If you are interested in learning more about your personal people style and how you can work better with others, check out a useful resource that helps you make sense of yours.....
Grab Your Cheat Sheet: People Styles Identifier to help you identify your personal style at work - and those you work with
Grab your copy of our Cheat Sheet which includes an easy to understand model to help you identify your personal style and those you work with in order to have a happy, more productive workplace!