As I write this, my recent Harvard Business Review article entitled, “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking” has garnered more than 450 comments, mostly from introverts expressing relief that there are others experiencing the same challenges they face. There is comfort in knowing they are not alone.
They also seek to be understood, as there are many myths that introverts are shy, socially inept, or lack strong communication skills. These myths about introversion are simply false. For introverts, their introversion should be viewed as a gift to be honored rather than a disability to overcome. This starts with a genuine understanding of introversion. Here’s what extroverts should know about their introverted colleagues in business:
1. We get the energy that drives us to succeed differently than you do.
We are energized by our inner world of ideas and insights. When we have time alone or with just one or two other people to mull over our thoughts, reflect on decisions, and play out strategies in our minds, we come away from the experience with more energy than when we went into it. We love this in our work!
You get your energy from being around others; the more people you’re around, the more energy you’re able to generate. For us, large group interaction is draining, and we need to recharge by being alone. We are not shy and it’s not that we don’t like you, it’s simply that we’re out of our comfort zone “energetically” around you and must prioritize time to recharge in order to continue to bring our best self to our work.
2. We think inside our heads.
Because we get our energy from our inner world of ideas, we are comfortable there. When we are asked a question, or when someone shares information with us, our natural inclination is to ruminate for a few moments silently. This is critically important for you to understand, particularly if you’re having a phone conversation with an introvert.
I have a CEO client who is exceptionally extroverted and likes to run ideas by me over the phone. He once commented to me after sharing one of his ideas, “You hate it, I just know it! Every time you get quiet I know you hate it!” Well, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. When I responded, “I actually love it, but I’m an introvert and need to take a few moments to think about it in my head,” our working relationship opened up in a way I’d never expected. We realized that all along my lengthy phone pauses were being misunderstood by him. It was a case of unintended miscommunication between an introvert and extrovert.
3. When we share our ideas, it’s important to listen.
It’s because we spend a lot of time reflecting on ideas, strategies, data and nurturing insights that when we do choose to speak we need you to listen. You already know that we’re not exceptionally talkative, but you often mistake this for shyness. Rather, know that when we do choose to speak, we are fully invested in our ideas and opinions and want them to be valued.
4. If we take time to be alone it doesn’t mean we’re not a team player.
As mentioned earlier, it’s important for us to take time to recharge after being in groups with more than a few people. If, for example, we spend an entire morning in large-group team meetings and choose to have lunch alone in our office, we ask you not to perceive this as a lack of team loyalty or a need for avoidance. We’re simply re-energizing so that we can engage more effectively in the afternoon.
5. We don’t like to be “put on the spot.”
Again, this goes back to our preference to have time to reflect on ideas, strategies and insights. Instead of calling a full team meeting, sharing a new idea, and asking, “Lisa, what do you think?” you’ll be more effective if you set up one-on-one meetings with your introverted colleagues beforehand and give them time to think through your idea. We will appreciate your effort and our contributions during the larger meetings will be more valuable to you. It’s a win-win.
6. Meet with us one-on-one to get our best thoughts.
Just as you should share ideas with us individually and give us time to reflect on them, when you do this on a regular basis in one-on-one meetings you’ll get our best thoughts. We’ll be in our comfort zone, and our conversation will be richer and more beneficial to you because of this.
7. We appreciate leeway to share our thoughts in writing.
It’s no surprise there were so many comments from introverts on my Harvard Business Review article; the written word is a comfort zone for introverts. I made a habit during my corporate career of sharing the ideas that came to me after large-group meetings with my teams, when I had time to truly reflect on issues we’d discussed, in writing. I also kept executives appraised of team progress in writing. By accepting this practice you’ll be encouraging more effective team dynamics because the introverts will know their ideas are getting visibility.
These insights should enable extroverted leaders be more effective and empower introverts to be more successful. If you’re an introvert, what do you wish your boss and colleagues understood about you?
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Being an introvert is truly an advantage in business and leadership if you know how to leverage it, and if you remain true to yourself.
Photo by victor1558.