There is no question that the workplace favours extroverts. If you are an introvert, you are made to feel as if it is a personal weakness that you need to overcome. This is an unfair misconception, as introverts also have important strengths that they bring to the workplace.
According to Laurie Helgoe, author of “Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength”, 57% of the world are introverts. Forbes magazine reports that “40% of executives describe themselves as introverts, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Charles Schwab.” In her article, “Why Introverts Can Make the Best Leaders”, Jennifer Kahnweiler outlines some of the unique strengths of introverts. These strengths include:
Thinking before they speak. Introverts do not typically jump into a conversation without thinking. Usually, they carefully plan what they are going to say before they say it. This allows them to avoid making costly or embarrassing mistakes, and it also prevents them from making commitments before thinking them through.
Focusing on depth. Introverts tend to get to the heart of the matter. They have no interest in superficial conversation. For this reason, introverts are skilled at solving complex problems. They take the time to carefully analyze the issues, and are able to recognize and address the bigger picture.
Exuding calm. Because introverts are less likely to get fired up, they are often a calming presence in a stressful situation. Many people see introverts as less threatening, so just by being in the room, they put people at ease.
Being strong writers. Since many introverts prefer written communication, the are often very good at it. Being a strong writer is an essential business skill, which is increasingly important as social networking becomes more prevalent in the workplace.
In addition, listening skills come naturally to introverts, because they aren’t spending all of their time talking. The importance of strong listening skills should not be understated. “In a 2009 study by Rain Today, the most widely cited complaint, named by 38% of those buying professional services, was: ‘service provider did not listen to me.’ Additionally, 55% of those surveyed said they would be ‘much more likely to consider hiring a provider if they listened better.'” (Source: http://www.yudkin.com)
After considering the strengths of introverts, it is clear that introversion is a different approach, and not a weakness. However, the norms and practices of the North American workplace are such that it is much easier for an extrovert to get ahead. So how can an introvert succeed in an extrovert’s world?
Find a job and an organization that is a good fit for you. It is always best to find an organization that is consistent with your values, and a job that plays to your strengths. If you are an introvert, you may not be happy with a job that regularly requires you to schmooze at cocktail parties. You will likely be more successful if you find a position that makes use of your many strengths.
Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t let being an introvert define you. Make an effort to expand yourself by interacting with more people. You can start by having lunch with your coworkers, or attending a networking event. Connecting with people will open doors for you, and you may find that you like it more than you thought you would.
Make your accomplishments known. You can’t get away from it. You have to promote your accomplishments. In order to progress in your career, you need to make your current employer, and any prospective employers aware of the value that you bring to the organization. The extroverts are busy advertising their achievements. If you don’t make your accomplishments known, the employer may assume that it is because you don’t have any.
The value of introverts is significantly underestimated. While it is important that introverts recognize that they have their own set of strengths, it is crucial that they make their strengths known. Be loud and proud! (But do it in your own way.)
(Written by: Karen Bivand)