If you’re an introvert in business, you probably feel different every day. Not differently; just different. I’ve met many introverts who feel that they get less attention, less credit, even fewer promotions than their extraverted peers.
It’s true that in most business settings, extraverts take up all the air in the room. Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., has written a great book on how to manage your introversion, be heard, and feel good about the way you’re wired. The book is called The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World. Laney, an introvert herself, describe growing up embarrassed that she was not more like the majority of her extroverted classmates. Like many introverts, she says, she judged herself by the extrovert standard: articulate, action-oriented and lively people see themselves as normal. The quieter, more reflective introverts can come off as shy or even arrogant in some settings.
Introverts are inwardly focused; they tend to need more time to reflect on what they’re hearing or thinking before expressing or sharing it. Sometimes, they never get around to sharing it. I’m an extrovert, and it’s typical extroverted behavior to want to share what we think, feel and experience. In a way, it’s the sharing itself that makes an experience (a story, a poem, or a sunset) real to us. Introverts don’t feel the strong need to share experiences.
Introverts react to stimulation differently than extroverts. Laney says it’s because their brains process the chemicals produced by stimulation differently. Too much of any stimulation: ideas, projects, chatter, interaction, change in routine, can overload and drain an introvert.
The third difference Laney mention is that introverts prefer to develop deep and complex understanding of subjects, where extroverts tend to be generalists (think “deep” instead of “wide.”) Variety is energizing for extroverts; it’s debilitating for introverts. So what do you do as an introvert in business?
One of Laney’s suggestions is to be sure to pace yourself during the day. In general, she says, introverts move more slowly than extroverts. They need to pace their activity to maintain enough energy for the whole day. If you’re an introvert, be sure to let your coworkers know that you’ll b’ taking what time you need to peruse, consider and act on information. Be assertive in setting your own pace (within reason, of course) and allowing interruptions. Practice saying the phrase: “I’m in the middle of something right now; can I call you in 20 minutes or so?”
Take the time to write down your thoughts before going into a meeting. Laney says that introverts often freeze when asked for input in the middle of a discussion. They only remember what they intended to say after the meeting. Preparing in writing helps you to focus on key points during the meeting. It’s also fine to say, “I have some ideas on this that I’d like to share; can I follow up with an email to outline them for you?”
Next: Introverted job seekers, and how to make sure your introversion is not sinking the job search.