What does it feel like to be an introvert in an extrovert world?
It was the weekend before Christmas and I was getting ready to visit a neighbour who had invited me and other neighbours for drinks. I knew most of the people who might be at the gathering and would enjoy catching up with their news and stories.
Then my sister (a disabled adult) came home from her day out, tired, under the weather with a cold starting and fell deeply asleep just before we were due to leave for the party. With a degree of sadness – and a larger part of joy – I called my friend and explained that we wouldn’t be able to join her, but “many thanks for the invitation!”
Many introverts will completely understand this feeling.
It’s great to be invited… and even better to not have to attend!
What being an introvert isn’t
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re antisocial or don’t like being with people. Many introverts are very sociable, they just prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings rather than larger and potentially noisy parties. Introverts tend to enjoy deeper or more meaningful conversations in preference to making small talk with strangers.
So what does it mean to be an “introvert”?
In truth, there is more than one way to be introverted but the thing that all introverts have in common is that social interactions tend to drain their energy reserves. (Even when they are enjoying themselves in larger groups, it often feels exhausting.)
After a long day at work, an introvert will want to recharge their internal batteries – their preferred system is likely to involve a quiet night in, reading, listening to music, playing videos or games. Their energy is replenished internally, often alone.
In a similar situation a tired extrovert is more likely to come home and exclaim “I’m exhausted, let’s go out and party!”. A typical extrovert charges their batteries by “plugging in” to the energy of the people and events around them.
As you reflect on that last paragraph most people will totally understand both options, some people want quiet time, others want to socialise… yet, the truth is, that people who are quieter within groups or prefer to withdraw from groups and spend time on their own are often judged more harshly in most western cultures.
Is it really an extrovert world?
Unless you are an introvert, it can be easy to miss the extrovert bias. In most workplaces there are by default, shared or open plan offices and workspaces. These spaces are often noisy – and most introverts find this type of environment particularly challenging.
In most workplaces, work is assigned to teams. This style of working does not play to an introvert’s strengths and is often challenging for them. During job interviews and assessment centre exercises our group interactions are scrutinised, our willingness or ability to be an enthusiastic leader, to make our voice heard in a crowd, to be proactive and to persuade or influence others is evaluated and any preference for holding back, for reflection or quiet thought is usually given lower value in the “potential leader” stakes.
And yet introverts have many strengths.
- They are very comfortable with data analysis, providing constructive critical analysis, planning (they love planning!) and risk assessment.
- Introverts prefer to listen, reflect and evaluate before they offer a considered opinion. When making decisions a typical introvert may prefer to consider a body of evidence and choose a relatively risk averse option for the way forward. They provide a steady hand on the helm in troubled times.
- There is an increasing body of evidence that shows that introverted employees, managers and leaders can be highly effective, can develop the members of their teams, deliver on their promises and follow-through on their work commitments.
- And while it is a common perception that extroverts make better leaders, there really isn’t the evidence to back that hypothesis.
How can we harness the power of introverts?
As managers within organisations there are many small changes that can easily be made that will make a more even playing field for all your workers to give of their best. Here are a few practical ideas:
- Give people the information to be discussed at a meeting in advance of the meeting so that people have the opportunity to read and consider that information before open discussion.
- Invite people to write their thoughts on sticky notes before a group discussion, adding the notes to a collection on a wall for group consideration before evaluation.
- Rather than the typical “free-for-all” discussion, there may be times when taking turns around the table inviting everyone to add their time-limited piece, might allow a reluctant introvert the opportunity to be heard.
And if you’re an introvert in an extrovert world?
Maybe the most important step is to recognise that you are an introvert and understand what this means for demands on your energy reserves. Once you clearly see that social interactions and group meetings drain energy, plan your strategy.
- If you know you have a busy day ahead, rest up beforehand, maximise your alone time so you go into the day with your batteries topped up.
- Understand that you may need to plan for time alone before or after a meeting – how can you create the space you need? Sometimes a tea or coffee break taken alone or a walk around the building will provide a 10 minute oasis of peace.
- Recognise that creating this space may well be meeting a fundamental need for you – it’s not a sign of weakness or something to beat yourself up for. Do understand that it’s often more helpful to take this break before returning to engage fully with the group rather than to struggle on, miserable and withdrawn.
- Another important step is for introverts to understand and own their strengths. When we realise that we have an unusual passion for planning, that our ability to spot potential risks is a great asset for the team not shared by all of our colleagues, and our hunger for information makes us natural researchers we begin to see that there’s nothing wrong with being introverted, we are essential to the organisation!
- It might not be the highlight of your day but do go to meetings prepared, maybe even determined to make a contribution and get your voice heard. I actively seek to speak within the first ten minutes of the start of a meeting.
Begin to value your strengths and to offer them to your colleagues in ways that show that you understand their value.
At the moment, most organisations do have an extrovert bias so introverts will do well to plan for behavioural flexibility – even a little bit of fake-it-til-you-make-it.
- Plan to regularly replenish your energies
- Use your strengths in strategy, preparation, analysis and detail orientation
- Identify the highlights you wish to share in meetings
- And yes, be brave!
Over to you…
If you’re an introvert, what strategies do you use to thrive and play to your strengths? Share them in the comments below!
Margaret Collins is a One of many in-house coach. She has been coaching for nearly 20 years, and is the author of several books (including “Beyond Impostor Syndrome”). In addition to her One of Many™ training she has experienced many different approaches and tools including cognitive behavioural confidence coaching, neuropsychology, NLP and The Daring Way™/Dare to Lead™ based on the research of Dr Brené Brown.
Founder of CABS Cardiff, Margaret is familiar with the challenge of juggling demanding work roles with caring responsibilities whilst managing and running a business. She loves helping women explore how to create a dynamic and flexible work-life balance that works for them and their needs. Find out more about her work by clicking here.