“I’m not a leader, I’m too quiet.”
“I wouldn’t be good at sales, I’m not pushy enough.”
“My dog doesn’t respect me because I’m not forceful enough.”
Have you ever said or thought any of these things about yourself? About others? You are definitely not alone in thinking that introversion carries with it a certain amount of: “I’m NOT [fill in blank].”
I suppose it’s easy to see why that would be. After all, introversion is defined as gaining energy from within, and this is a process that cannot be observed by others. Whether you’re introverted or extraverted, nobody can see you “gaining energy” (we don’t – yet? - have a battery indicator on our forehead to show others our energy percentage).
TWO PEOPLE WALK INTO A BAR…
Let’s take a hypothetical conversation between two people, one strongly extraverted the other strongly introverted (and yes, introverted people do go to bars!).
- The extraverted person will likely be talking animatedly (for example, waving hands), physically leaning in to the conversation, and perhaps reacting strongly to the other person’s input.
- The introverted person may contribute to the conversation, however their outwardly physical signs may be much more subdued (in other words, they may show less energy).
As a third party observer to this conversation, you may make the mistake that many of us make: assuming the introverted person is missing something that the extraverted person possesses. We may think the introverted person is shy, or less interested in the conversation, or we may even think the introverted person isn’t as smart (in fact, while neither extraversion or introversion signifies more or less intelligence, studies indicate that introverts may be better at processing information than extraverts)!
INTROVERTS LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE EXTRAVERSION IS KING
Extraversion is generally seen as the gold standard for success (and even happiness). Leaders are expected to be vocal and dynamic, salespeople can’t possibly be expected to succeed if they don’t thrive on talking to others, and people may find themselves sidelined at school or work if they don’t “contribute” to discussions.
How should an introvert handle these expectations?
Do you pretend to be extraverted? Or, do you assume that your introversion will limit you and only pursue paths that typically are seen as “good for introverts?” Perhaps it doesn’t need to be either! Keep in mind that very few people are 100% introverted or extraverted. This means that you probably exist somewhere on the continuum of extraversion and introversion, and therefore you already have the ability and inclination to show signs of both!
Going to a party and having fun is not “out of character” for an introvert, but it may require more mental energy and may need to be followed by more time alone to recharge. If you don’t want to go to a party, don’t go! Sometimes, you may not want to go because you’re feeling too shy/introverted, and sometimes you may not want to go because you are genuinely excited for a quiet night at home. There are no right or wrong reasons, but in this – as in most things – you want to strive for a balance.
WORK WITHIN YOUR PREFERENCE WHILE STRETCHING IT
The point of learning your preference is to neither try to change it nor use it as an excuse for acting or not acting. A more effective strategy is to recognize how your preference can be leveraged as a strength while simultaneously doing things that widen your ability to be comfortable in both realms.
For introverts, this may come in the form of accepting that not all social situations are to your liking, and proactively seeking those that you are comfortable with. For instance, if the thought of going to a networking event makes you queasy, try a book club or other group that involves activities (running, eating, etc.). You will be surrounded by fewer people and there will be both distractions and guidelines that lessen the awkwardness of small talk.
For extraverts, this may come in the form of accepting that sometimes you actually do need to take time for yourself – and that it’s OK to do so. You may need to schedule that time, since – as an extravert – it’s possible you have filled your calendar with social situations already. Taking this time will give you the opportunity to think more deeply about things you may not normally take the time to contemplate. This can be just as draining to an extravert as a social situation may be to an introvert!
INTROVERTS AND EXTRAVERTS SHOULD ACCOMMODATE EACH OTHER
In all of your interactions, ask yourself this simple question “If I were the other person, what would I want from me?” By doing this, you are attempting to understand what it’s like to be more extraverted or more introverted, and from there it’s a shorter road to understanding how to interact effectively with one another. As an introvert, if you recognize that the other person is struggling to hold up the conversation, you may be inspired to give a little more energy to the interaction. As an extrovert, if you recognize that the other person may be struggling to interject, then you may be inspired to stop and ask them a question or simply give them space to talk.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I believe introverts to be in need of “protection” and that it’s up to the extraverts of the world to ensure they are treated fairly. It may be common that extraverts tend to take control of situations, and many social and workplace rules tend to favor extraverts. However, introverts are just as capable of – and responsible for - handling themselves in social, school, and work situations. We all – extraverts and introverts alike – should strive to know and manage ourselves while not expecting anyone to change based on our opinion that change may be warranted. Introverts and extraverts can have smooth and rewarding relationships simply by recognizing and accommodating each other.
What is your experience being an introverted leader, or interacting with an introverted leader? Share your comments below!
About David Freedman
David Freedman is a Success Coach at MySuccessPlatform.com. He has more than 15 years in human resources consulting. MySuccessPlatform.com offers Competitive Edge Boot Camp - customized and highly interactive workshop designed specifically for job seekers. Parent or recent college grad? Check it out.