The days when extroverts reigned supreme are over. Networking, public speaking, personal branding, tooting your own horn: all of these may have been thus far popularly associated with extroverted behaviour.
The reality is that introverts are just as capable of excelling at all of those things as extroverts. It’s just a matter of approaching each of those situations differently, in a way that complements the innate strengths of an introvert. Here’s how.
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An introvert’s greatest superpower is their natural ability to listen well to others. Society tends to reward people who speak up more than those who don’t, but this is also why a good listener is so valuable. Everybody is clamouring to be heard, but few people want to keep quiet long enough to pay attention to someone else’s thoughts and insights.
The better you are at listening, the more you can learn about and empathise with the people around you. It puts you in the ideal position for leadership since, as Richard Branson puts it, “being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader.”
Paying attention to and reflecting on the insights you glean from others also helps you sharpen your problem-solving skills. Take the time to listen to multiple viewpoints from multiple stakeholders. Doing this will give you a bird’ s-eye view of the problems that need to be solved and how best to approach them.
Introverts often hold back from making their achievements known. Doing this persistently, though, can turn into self-sabotage. Being hardworking alone isn’t enough to help you stand out at work. If your co-workers and superiors don’t know exactly what you’ve managed to accomplish and how you’ve value-added to the company, you’ll lose out to others.
Sometimes, this means taking the initiative to ask for a raise, other times, it means asking for stretch assignments. The bottom line is that you need to take the initiative to prove your competence to key people at work.
Because introverts are often adept at empathising with others, it also makes them great leaders. While the general conception of leadership is one associated with boisterous, type-A dominance, not all leaders thrive that way. Introverted leaders who lead from behind are the ones who often engender much more loyalty and motivation in their people.
Nelson Mandela himself, for example, referenced the power of this style of leadership. Mandela likened a good leader with a shepherd who lets his people surge ahead of him, directing, keeping watch and taking care of them from his position at the very back of the flock.
Networking is often considered the bane of an introvert’s professional life. Large, noisy crowds, small talk, speaking with strangers, and exchanging as many business cards as possible—it’s not hard to see why it can be an introvert’s worst nightmare. In reality, though, you don’t need to lose out on forging excellent working relationships with people just because of your innate personalities. Fostering strong, close personal relationships strategically can make a huge difference.
The simple act of inviting someone from a different department out to lunch, for example, can make all the difference to bring fresh perspectives to their team and hedge against silos.
As Dale Carnegie put it, if you want to make friends, stop trying to make other people pay attention to you. Get interested in them and what they have to say and it’ll happen naturally. Doubtless, introverts are in the best position for this.
If you know that you need “me time” to recharge after too much social interaction, be intentional and purposeful about how you use this downtime. For instance, you could try to build into your schedule by batching all your people-related tasks together. That way, you can devote one day entirely to social interactions like meetings or networking sessions. Then, you can spend the next day focusing solely on your work without being interrupted by appointments, calls, and the like.
Since introverts often keep their feelings close to their chests, they also tend to be a lot more hesitant about expressing discontent, stress, anger, or other negative sentiments at work.
If this sounds you, understand that doing this often only worsens your situation. One of the key elements of both self-motivation and happiness at work is having social support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow co-workers and speak candidly and respectfully about any negative feelings you might be keeping cooped up inside.
One of the best ways to make your presence known and help people to remember your name and your accomplishments is to embrace public speaking. It might seem like anathema initially to your introverted tendencies, but being a good speaker is not mutually exclusive with being introverted.
As advised by Susan Cain, bestselling author of “The Quiet Revolution”, think of yourself as inhabiting a role temporarily each time you need to go onstage. Additionally, frame the experience as though you were having a conversation with a close friend. It can help you to be comfortable telling personal anecdotes that rivet the audience.