Are you an introvert? You might be if you:
- take your time to think things through before sharing your ideas aloud,
- are more reserved and calm than expressive and excitable,
- thrive in one-on-one conversations but hang back in big groups, and
- enjoy being with people, but recharge your emotional battery with some alone time.
I’m an introvert. In fact, 40-60 percent of us are. And while about half of any team tend to be introverted, our contributions may not be as obvious as those made by our more extroverted colleagues.
In a world where the loudest voices or biggest personalities get the most attention, introverts are sometimes overlooked, undervalued, and misunderstood. We’re like Clark Kent: quiet and unassuming, our powers virtually unrecognizable.
The calmer, less attention-seeking approach taken by introverts can lead to incorrect assumptions about our abilities to influence and lead. Fortunately, writers like Susan Cain (Quiet) and Jennifer Kahnweiler (The Introverted Leader) and researchers around the world are helping us appreciate the important role introverts play in successful teams.
Introverts bring diverse strengths to the table, including our abilities to focus, prepare, and listen. Our steadiness provides stability and reassurance during times of change. Our observational skills help us offer useful insights, feedback, and solutions to complex problems. Our preference for digging deep during one-on-one conversations allows us to be good coaches and mentors.
Teams absolutely benefit from introverts at their helm and in their midst. And with an already-strong skillset, introverts who push themselves a bit beyond their comfort zones can enjoy greater professional success and more personal satisfaction.
But, like any source of power, too much of a good thing can be our Kryptonite.
I remember meeting with a supervisor early in my first “real” job after graduating from college. He complimented my focus and work ethic, but the constructive feedback he offered took me by surprise. “No one here really knows you,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like you’re a part of the team.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with that information at first. Over the years, though, as I gained more experience in various workplaces, I’ve realized what he was trying to tell me. In order for my co-workers to trust me, they had to know more about me. I had to open up a bit about my life, and I had to make an effort to get to know them on a more personal level, too. Being a good employee wasn’t just about showing up, keeping my head down, and doing my job. It was about pushing myself out of my independent comfort zone and making an effort to build trusting relationships with my colleagues. These relationships allowed us to work together more easily and enjoy more successful outcomes.
Overuse of a strength turns it into a weakness. In my case, my Kryptonite was my introvert’s preference for keeping mostly to myself. I was in danger of creating a barrier between me and my co-workers if I continued down this path. This barrier would’ve made doing my job more difficult and less enjoyable. It also would’ve impacted my career advancement and professional growth.
Introverts: How to Avoid Our Kryptonite
If you’re also an introvert, here are some anti-Kryptonite considerations:
- Lean into the discomfort (sometimes). Some situations tend to make introverts uncomfortable. Public speaking, networking, socializing in large groups: all of these might take effort if you’re an introvert – and might also be a part of the work you’re asked to do. Get the training and support you need to make them easier. Practice them and reward yourself when you do them. And let yourself off the hook occasionally. No one can be “on” 100 percent of the time.
- Focus on quality, not quantity. Having one meaningful face-to-face conversation a day with a co-worker is better than four or five email interactions. Having in-depth discussions with one or two people at a networking event is better than making a quick introduction and then dashing away with a business card from ten new contacts. It’s about the quality – not the quantity – of connections we make.
- Start – and continue – small. That feedback about my co-workers not really knowing me? It prompted me to take regular small steps to bridge the gap. And it wasn’t that I started divulging my secrets or sharing my entire life’s story with my colleagues. Instead, I made conscious efforts to share little personal details about myself while also being genuinely curious about them. Each successful small step forward made it easier to keep the momentum going.
My fellow introverts – there’s no need to try to become an extrovert. Our introvert tendencies are a part of us, and they gift us with strengths and skills extroverts may not have. We have a lot to offer, and companies are beginning to recognize our unique and essential contributions to the bottom line. So embrace your Clark Kent side, avoid strength-sapping Kryptonite, and let your introvert superpowers shine.