Introverts can feel out-of-step in American workplaces. Now, their job strengths and skills are getting their due.
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Jan 17, 2022
by Jean Thilmany
And they’re finally getting the attention they deserve in a working word seemingly built for extroverts. By exercising a few skills (that don’t involve public speaking) introverts can thrive and be recognized for the value their personality type brings to work.
Myers-Brigg Co.—the creator of the eponymous personality test—found that, globally, 57 percent of people say they are introverts. One common notion of the engineer is someone who prefers to work alone and is likely introverted. Whether true or not, the stereotype persists.
Those of us who enjoy solitude are already familiar with what Susan Cain says is a big problem in our culture: It rewards extroverts. But the preference for employees to be outgoing is misplaced, said Susan Cain, who literally wrote the book on quiet types.
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Introversion is not a character flaw to be fixed, Cain said. Yet the world, at least in America, has dramatically undervalued introverts and loses much by not hearing or valuing their voices, she said. Her premise has found a huge following.
Her book Quiet: Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2013) found a huge audience and became a New York Times bestseller.
Because the world hasn’t quite caught up with the premise of Cain’s book, however, you may quite often feel pressure in your workplace to pass as an extrovert, especially if you hope to move up the corporate ladder. While half the people in the world are introverts, in American and similar cultures, it’s mainly extroverts that are rewarded with leadership positions, Myers-Briggs found.
“Which is a shame, because introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful, much less likely to take outsize risks — which is something we might all favor nowadays,” Cain said in her 2012 virtual Ted Talk called “The Power of Introverts.”
She cited research by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, which found introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes in work projects than extroverts.
“When they’re managing employees, introverts are much more likely to let employees run with their ideas,” she said. “Extrovert might not as easily let ideas bubble up to the surface.”
You shouldn’t feel slighted at work for your introverted ways. The following ideas should help you show up, be heard, and be valued in your workplace.
Frame ideas ahead of time
If you hesitate to share an idea at a meeting because you’re not sure exactly how to present it, you can work out ahead of time how you’ll frame your idea ahead, Cain suggested.
“I would recommend that you always keep a journal where write you down everything that’s for your eyes only. Decide which ideas you do want to share with the world,” Cain said.
As with any fear, approach this one in small, manageable steps.
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“Experiment with sharing your ideas little by little and seeing how you feel. You’ll probably find that you enjoy it more than you think,” she said.
She suggests those with a fear of public speaking enroll in a local Toastmasters group. The organization teaches public speaking and leadership skills through its worldwide network of clubs.
And don’t worry if your inclination is to bolt right back to your desk after a meeting.
Studies show that both introverts and extroverts produce more ideas, and better ideas, alone than in a group, she said.
Value your inquiring mind
An introvert’s natural curiosity perfectly positions them to lead. Look for chances to be curious. Be the one to ask thoughtful questions that inspire people to think differently, said Melody Wilding, an executive leadership coach and author of the book Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work.
She also suggests playing to the “people person” strengths you may not even realize you have.
Introverts tend to be able to build rapport, listen, and empathize with customer needs. By speaking quietly and sincerely with teammates, managers, and customers you stand out in their eyes, Wilding said.
Tell the truth
Introverts worry about being interesting in meetings. Focus on your strength as a truth-teller rather than a storyteller, Cain advised.
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“Give truthful answers, and don’t be afraid to add your personal reflections and opinions to your statements of fact. That is more than enough to be interesting,” she said.
When you’re leading those meetings, remember you’ll have a mix of introverts and extroverts in the group. Go around the room in turn to ask people their thoughts. That way, you’ll hear from those less inclined to speak up, Cain advised.
Also, give people the chance to write down their thoughts during the meeting so they can refer to them later, alone.
So in a working environment that seems to be made up of smooth-talking salespeople, enthusiastic cheerleaders, and earnest speechmakers, take heart. Managers, leaders, and teammates are recognizing the qualities introverts bring to the workplace and the capabilities extraverts don’t share.
A quiet revolution is happening in the business world, Cain said. Introverts are on the rise.
Jean Thilmany is a freelance writer in Saint Paul, Minn.