We tend to think more highly of extroverts than introverts because they have the courage to be ‘out there’.
People like Donald Trump come to mind as a prime example of a super-motivated and self-confident extrovert. And despite the fact that he has lost many more fortunes than he has accumulated, we think of him as being highly successful as well.
That may be true, but new research and a few recent books have shed some new light on the strengths and the value of introverts in both society and the workplace.
Required Reading for Introverts
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain makes a compelling case for paying more attention to introverts and taking the time to both listen to what they have to say and to promote their talents at work.
Another resource in this field comes from Lisa Petrelli, who has written an excellent e-book called The Introverts Guide to Success in Business and Leadership. It offers specific tips for both introverts and their managers to help improve their contributions in the workplace.
Both authors offer an explanation of how introverts think and work, which is a very useful place to start. Petrelli says that it is important to know that introverts are not necessarily unsocial – they just think and work best when alone.
That means they are most effective when they are given some time to ponder a situation and then provide feedback. It also means that they are not the best people to assign to teams or working groups. That is not where they are most effective, and it really is trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole when forcing them to work that way.
You Are Not Alone
Susan Cain, a former corporate lawyer and negotiations consultant says that about a third of all people are introverts, but that society has undervalued their contribution at home and at work. She notes some of the great introverts of all time – like Chopin and Ghandi – and decries the fact that society does not fully appreciate the talents of introverts for innovation and great achievement, particularly in the business world.
In her view we are wasting one-third of our workforce because we have designed a world that promotes and rewards extroverts while ignoring the hidden capacity and greatness of introverts.
Adapting to Differences
So what strategies do these experts suggest to maximize the role of introverts in the workplace? As noted above introverts like time alone to think, so give them that time and space.
Secondly, give them time to respond or give feedback. Petrelli says to give introverts material before a meeting (they usually like to read) and then ask for their opinions back in a one-on-one meeting or by e-mail. They love making detailed written submissions and the informality of e-mail.
What can introverts do to make themselves more open to achieving success? Plenty, according to the experts. Suggestions include making sure that you manage your own time and energy so that you have some to give back when called upon in a group situation or meeting, and asking for the time and space you need in order to process information properly and provide good feedback.
It might also mean asking for one-on-one meetings with your boss or supervisor to explain your discomfort and to ask for their support.
In Good Company
Being an introvert doesn’t mean that you can’t rise in the business world. Just ask self-confessed introverts like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steven Spielberg, and Sara Lee’s Brenda Barnes.
Douglas Conant, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company is a proud introvert who stresses the need for introverts to adapt, but not completely change, if they want to be successful. He is happy to be an introvert but knows that sometimes his style makes people uncomfortable.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Conant says that he helps others and himself by calling himself out as appearing to be uninterested or aloof sometimes, and gives other people permission to do that too. If a guy with 18,000 employees can do that successfully, then surely the rest of us can too.
If you can’t or won’t adapt or change your introverted style to maximize your potential at work, maybe you should look at changing jobs. There are some jobs that are better suited for introverts than others. But if you are a true introvert, then you are probably already in one of these jobs from a list by Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D. in 200 Best Jobs for Introverts:
- Auto mechanic
- Computer systems Analyst
- Civil engineer
- Financial Analyst
- Graphic Designer
- Mail Carrier
- Market Research Analyst
- And of course, Writer