introvert at seaside

Have you ever been in a meeting and were completely surprised by that colleague who never seems to contribute anything but suddenly presents the team with a great idea or solution to a problem?
… or … are you actually that person who prefers to not say anything in meetings even though you have plenty of ideas or potential solutions in your head but not quite sorted out, so you rather not mention them yet?

The following might be some food for thought for both of you. You will just look at it from entirely different angles … and that is deliberate.

It will not come as a surprise to anyone who has had some exposure to personality type definitions that there are extroverts and introverts in the world. Yet, how many of us have ever really thought about what that means in any depth? And why would it be worth thinking about it anyway … well, here is why I believe it is well worth it.
Everyone knows that extroverts are outgoing, like communicating and socializing, thrive in the presence of others, and in more general terms are usually the benchmark for how people are expected to behave in our Western culture.  Introverts, who don’t fit that image at all, should be helped to get over it and change. They need to be ‘fixed’,  or do they?
Well, being an introvert myself and having been aware of it for a long time, I refused to be ‘fixed’ and accepted very early on that I would not be too popular that way with quite a few people around me. It didn’t really bother me.

Even so, I still had quite a revelation only very recently, when I came across a blog from Carl King titled:  10 Myths About Introverts. It’s not even new and had apparently reached 1 million unique viewers by 2012, but it was new to me and it intrigued me so much I started digging for more. Doing that, I quickly found a lot more along those lines, and it felt like all these separate jigsaw pieces I had all those years suddenly fell into their right place and the entire picture finally made sense.

What was new to me about it all was that some of the things I had experienced in the past were not just because I am weird and just don’t fit in (well, I am and I don’t ;-)) but it can in fact be linked to me being an introvert – my Myers Briggs results are off the scale for “I”. There is even neuro-scientific evidence that brains of introverts and extroverts work in very different ways.

So, what am I talking about here in a business context?

  • I am talking about the fact that I was often sitting in meetings and thinking about those potential solutions or answers  but by the time I knew how to put them in words everyone else had already finished that point and started the next one. So, I kept quiet, accepting I was too slow once again, and thinking that probably my contribution wasn’t that interesting anyway.
  • I am also talking about the fact that the larger the group is I am with, the quieter I will usually get … which is not to say that I cannot chew people’s ears off with subjects I find interesting, if I am in a one-to-one-conversation.
  • I am talking about the fact that whenever I have been around people for a while (and those whiles get shorter the older I get) I need time-out and be alone because I feel drained of all my energy. And recharging my batteries only works without anybody around.
  • And I am talking about the fact that my worst nightmare is to have to enter and join a room full of people socializing – or networking in a business context. To do that needs serious mental preparation on my part and making sure I can do it with my batteries fully charged.

I could extend that list forever but I am sure if you are ‘one of us’ you know exactly what else there would be to write down. And if you are one of the extroverts making an effort to understand your introvert colleagues better, then you will probably have figured out by now who it is I am talking about.

Apparently, there are only about 25-35% (depending on the sources I found so far) introverts in our population. On the other hand, that means one in four people around us is one. We are not as rare as it might seem and being an introvert is nothing that can be fixed – nor should it be. So, we all should make an effort to get along or, better still, accept and understand our differences and learn how we can utilise them for the benefit of everyone involved.
A lot has been written on the valuable contribution introverts make to society, a company, team, family or whatever group they happen to belong to. So, I will not do that here. What I will do though, is to make a plea for us introverts in the business world:

Please be aware, that …

  1. We need time to think things through. Do not expect high quality spontaneous responses; sometimes even to seemingly simple questions. It’s not that we don’t have an answer. We just need the time to select the most appropriate one of those we did come up with while we also consider the potential implications our answers could have. This might even mean that it takes us right to the end of a meeting to make a valuable contribution when everyone else considers everything ‘done and dusted’.
  2. When we do not easily engage with groups or people we don’t know well, it doesn’t mean we are not interested in anyone else. Many of us are just not quick-witted enough to feel comfortable joining in a fast-paced conversation, therefore, we prefer to watch from the sidelines. And many of us outright hate small-talk or talking just for the sake of it. We are often much more comfortable communicating and sharing our thoughts in writing.
  3. As oppose to extroverts, who largely (re)gain their energy from the interaction with other people, we introverts need a quiet environment to recharge our batteries. Therefore, the worst possible work environment for us are open plan offices with no opportunity to retreat into a ‘private’ space every now and again without distraction. In order to perform best, we need our peace and quiet from time to time.

There is a lot for leaders to consider in this aspect too, whether they themselves are introverts or extroverts. And it all starts with an honest attempt at trying to understand those differences and, therefore, the requirements different people have to be able to develop their full potential.

Two examples of what not to do could be:

Asking someone (introvert) in a group without warning to come forward and perform (and I mean ‘perform’ in the broadest possible sense) because you want to help them come out of their shell and get a chance to make their contribution. This might just have the opposite effect. They could close down even more because to them it feels like someone stabbed them in the back and twisted the knife for better effect.

And -in the other direction- being only available for a conversation that is restricted to communicate the bare essentials (because that’s all that really counts, isn’t it?) will potentially stifle any creativity and motivation an (extrovert) person has and needs to share ‘with the world’ to develop further.

These are just a few thoughts that can but scratch the surface of it all. I still wanted to share them and maybe even initiate a discussion about this and what experiences you have in this context. So, please feel free to comment with some of your spontaneous thoughts below … or … think about it and come back later with whatever it is you feel like sharing.
Thanks for reading this far.