There’s a misconception floating around the business world that I hope to debunk, right here, right now. In fact, perhaps it’s this myth that has kept you from moving forward on a business idea or progressing in your line of work. It’s the thought that introverts have no real place in the business world. I mean, how could a shy, more reserved person possibly help drive their business to the top of their industry? In fact, four out of five introverts claim that it’s extroverts who are more likely to get ahead in the workplace. For an introvert, it’s simply impossible. Wrong.
Maybe it’s important to pause for a moment to understand exactly what introversion is. Unlike anxiety or shyness, introversion is hardwired into one’s personality. Introverts process information internally, keep personal matters to themselves and show very little outward emotion. Typically an extrovert will talk first and think later, but introverts will think first, talk later. Extroverts draw their energy from other people and actively seek out people to be around, whereas introverts’ energy is drained when they are around too many people for too long and will need quiet, alone time to re-energize. Sound like anyone in your office? Maybe it even sounds like you?
According to Psychology Today, research estimates 50-74 percent of the American population are introverts. This means that possibly more than half of those you work with are introverts. I venture to say they are key contributors to the overall success of your company. They are the thinkers, often the innovators, the engineers, writers and artists.
A colleague and friend of mine, and self-proclaimed introvert, Ryan Travis, has done extensive research on the subject of temperament and how it affects the workplace. I’d like to include three important points he makes in his 2-part series article, which I highly recommend reading:
There is nothing ‘wrong’ with you. Just because you prefer small and intimate groups doesn’t mean you’re a social misfit. It means you connect on a deeper level with people. Just because you like to be alone doesn’t mean you’re anti-social. It means you like time to think and explore ideas, which allows you to see the world a bit differently than Extroverts. You think, process, and gain and use energy in a different way. That’s all. Basically, you rock.
Your amazing insights make you unique. You tend to process things internally. You think before you speak. You ponder before you take action. Instead of comparing yourself to Extroverts, bring your prowess to the table. Your more well-thought ideas may win the day. We may tend to value ‘shooting from the hip,’ it’s very cool in movies, books, and meetings at work. But well-thought plans win the battle.
The world needs you. Some journalists and research scientists have pondered that had the Introverts in investment circles been listened to more often, the financial crisis of 2008 could have been lessened or avoided totally. [Businesses] need Introverts to avoid disaster, think outside of the box, and provide depth and insight. You can accept yourself as an Introvert, and develop your traits to make a difference. And if you’re an Extrovert still reading this post, lend your ear to Introverts more often, especially in meetings and critical moments. Work together.
Another cool science fact that Travis points out is that personality traits, including introvert and extrovert, are even shown in other animal species. For example, he says “in schools of fish, some fish are more extroverted and adventurous, which helps fish survive when drastic changes occur to their environment, and they need to find new places to survive. Yet, other fish in the same school are more cautious and Introverted, helping to protect them from predators, or swimming over waterfalls.” The takeaway point is that to be truly successful (and protect yourself from failure) there must be both introverted and extroverted people, working together. BOTH are needed.
One of the most successful introverts of our time is Steve Jobs. He used this trait to his advantage, meditating regularly to calm the thoughts that seemed to occupy his brain. He essentially trained his brain to be far superior in this “mind technology” just as he was in computer technology. It is this introspective thought that led him to his success.
In his own words:
"If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there's room to hear more subtle things--that's when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before."
Some other known introverts: Bill Gates, Christina Aguilera, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Emma Watson, Laura Bush, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks. . . all have contributed, even changed, the world around them in some way.
In fact, introverts often wield significant influence over others, as a result of their introvertedness. Why/how? Unlike extroverts, who are more likely to be outspoken and verbose, introverts are unlikely to spew a stream of consciousness, keeping them talking non-stop. As such, when they do speak, their words tend to carry more weight. There is an old saying that goes something like “If you want to be heard more, say less.” That adage is a nod to the fact that the more someone speaks, the more you tune them out. Introverts are less likely to speak too much, making them less likely to be tuned out and more likely to exert positive influence over others.
The next time you think you, as an introvert, may not have a place in your line of work to succeed, to move up, or even to lead, think again. The most successful businesses have both introverts and extroverts working in unison to create a powerful, unstoppable team. As an introvert myself… I celebrate this research and understanding.
Tell Us: Give an example of a time when introverted traits led to unparalleled success in the workplace.