Archive for the ‘introvert’ Category

A few weeks ago, I presented my new webinar called “The Introvert’s Guide to Career Happiness & Productivity.” I was pretty sure it would generate interest, but it was still a little surprising to see just how many people attended.  The webinar discussed some of the challenges introverts face in the workplace, as well as strategies to make it a more positive experience.

One of these challenges deals with being talked over or drowned out by extroverts in a group meeting. Been there. I also tend to lose in “face-offs” with extroverts when we both begin speaking at the same time, allowing my colleague to have the floor. This challenge actually played out in my own job just a few days ago. We were having a small-group meeting to debrief on a recent work event and offer ideas on how to improve it for next year. Despite having several ideas to contribute, I found myself in the old familiar pattern of starting to talk, only to be talked over by one of my extroverted co-workers. I then fell into my usual stance that I would just remain quiet for the rest of the meeting. My colleagues are all lovely people, but I figured, what’s the point?

fishoutofwaterAs discussed in the webinar, introverts like to observe, take in information, maybe make some notes, think through a few ideas alone, and then present them to the group. This can often yield the same, or even better results in terms of viable ideas and solutions. But in this particular meeting, I knew that if I wanted to contribute ideas, it had to be right then and there. I also knew that saying nothing can be perceived as being a non-contributor. So I quickly changed my mindset and decided to keep trying, keep speaking up to get my ideas voiced. And by the end of the meeting, I did manage to get a couple thoughts out there to the group, which were well received, and I considered it a personal victory.

Introverts often have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, it’s important to stay true to who we are, recognize our strengths, and avoid putting on an extroverted facade just to fit in. On the other hand, it’s important to sometimes come out of our comfort zones despite feeling like a fish out of water, to see how far we can stretch ourselves! On this particular day, it paid off for me. But on any day, it’s a good strategy to follow for anyone!


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I read an article the other day with the headline, “How to Overcome Being an Introvert”. Overcome?! This is exactly the kind of attitude that perpetuates misunderstanding and confusion. I don’t see it as something I need, or want to fix. And even if I wanted to, trying to reverse something hard-wired into my brian is most likely impossible anyway.

Hammer and Qubes4no textLet’s face it – we introverts face certain challenges. In Susan Cain’s article, The Rise of the New Groupthink, she discusses how introverts tend to be very creative thinkers, but face a serious challenge in a culture that constantly emphasizes group activity and teamwork in the workplace. She goes on to explain that introverts welcome collaboration, but need sufficient alone-time to gather our thoughts and formulate ideas to then bring to the group for discussion. Cain cites Apple Computer’s Steve Wozniak, an example of a famous introvert, as someone who fits this mold and whose greatest ideas were developed solo. And we all know how well that turned out!

In the end, both introverts and extroverts are capable of bringing value to the workplace, but that it’s critical we understand each other’s work style and accept the fact that one size does not fit all. And this is one time where there is (or ought to be) an “I” in “Team”.

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I’ve seen several blog posts and other articles recently that use the terms “introvert” and “shy” interchangeably. I wanted to take this opportunity to dispel the myth that being an introvert necessarily means we’re shy (or socially awkward for that matter). True, some introverts are indeed shy, and some shy people are introverts, but this is more coincidental then by definition. Being an introvert means that we thrive more in settings where we can engage in deeper conversations with a handful of people (vs. small talk with many people). It also means that we need to recharge our batteries more often by having more “alone” time, as compared to our extroverted friends. And we tend to think before we speak, vs. automatically speaking first.

happy introvert signThere are of course other ways of identifying an introvert, but I think these areas I just mentioned may be where the misunderstanding and confusion lie. I just looked up the definition of “shy” which includes words like “timid, easily frightened away, wary, reluctant.” The word “wallflower” can also be a good way to describe a shy person. As an introvert myself, I can safely say that I am none of these when I go to a social or networking event. My “battery” may drain more quickly, prompting an earlier exit, and I may prefer having conversations with one or two people only, but that’s just my inner introvert kicking in…I should say “shining through!” Making these important distinctions will help improve our understanding of others, both in our personal and professional lives.

Check out Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. I’ve just started reading it and it’s already proving to be very enlightening!

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I think back to last year and being invited to 6 holiday parties. By the time the 6th one came around, I said, “Really? Another party? Nope, can’t do it.” I just could not muster up the energy to go. The introvert in me was saying enough was enough! I needed some down time to recharge my batteries. This past holiday, being out of town for a large chunk of December meant we pretty much missed all the parties. But when faced with a situation of back-to-back social events, how do you handle it if you’re an introvert?

The first recommendation is to be selective. You don’t have to accept every invitation. That’s the mistake I made last year by going to 5 parties within a span of a couple weeks. So be selective – for example, make an effort to attend those “optional” work parties. I say “optional” because although they technically are optional, the unfortunate reality is that if you don’t at least make an appearance, it could have negative consequences for you and for your job.

Another tip would be to commit to a certain amount of time you’ll be there, for example one hour (or however long feels good for you.) At the end of the hour, hopefully you’ll be having a good time and will want to stay longer. Also, if you’re like many introverts, you’re a great listener. So capitalize on that strength and be an active listener. But at the same time, remember that what you have to say is interesting so don’t be afraid to share something of yourself with your fellow party-goers. Another good strategy is to ask questions. Personally I don’t like the spotlight on me, so I tend to ask questions of others partly to deflect the spotlight, which also frees me up to listen more and hopefully learn more about  others.

Introverts are not by definition anti-social or socially awkward. We just approach parties in a different way than our extroverted friends. When we experience sensory overload, we tend to seek out one or two people for quiet conversation vs. making small talk with many different people. We may not be the life of the party, but being introverted doesn’t mean we still can’t have fun and be sociable!

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A friend and I attended a networking event last night. If I had known ahead of time what it would be like, I probably would have passed on this one. We walked into a small bar area packed with people, and then proceeded to fight our way to the other side of the room to the coat check and got something to drink at the bar. It was obvious we wouldn’t be able to move freely and easily around the room so we scouted out a location that would be away from the thick of things but where we would still be visible. Did I mention how LOUD it was in there! Call me crazy but I’m not really into screaming to be heard or straining to hear others. Granted, a noisy room is sometimes unavoidable, but there’s manageable loud and then there’s over the top LOUD!

Unfortunately, this whole evening had failure written all over it. There was some semblance of organization with the color-coded name tags designed to make it easier to identify your target connection, but as far as I was concerned, I was happy to have any conversations. Indeed, we each managed to have a couple of conversations and exchange business cards with our fellow networkers, but I was more than happy to call it a night after that. We both literally walked out of there breathing a sigh of relief.

I guess some people like that sort of environment and make a lot of connections. Not me. I guess it’s the introvert in me that finds that sort of thing exhausting. But on the bright side, it was a learning opportunity and now I know to try to find out more information about the venue before attending the next networking event. What about you? What type of venue and/or atmosphere do you do your best networking? Find out what works best for you and place your emphasis there. That’s not to say you shouldn’t reach beyond your comfort zone sometimes, but with networking you want to make the best use of your valuable time.

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One of the biggest challenges for introverts is overcoming perceptions that we’re somehow not enthusiastic or taking initiative or adding value or being a good team player in the workplace. The challenge doubles when we’re outnumbered by our extroverted colleagues or when others don’t realize just how much value we can “bring to the table.”

Sitting in a meeting recently really brought this to the surface and helped me understand myself better. Basically, the meeting was a website demo for a new service our organization was considering buying. As an introvert, my style is to take in the information, process it, and then come back with some really good feedback. Sitting in that meeting with, I’m guessing, mostly extroverts giving instantaneous feedback to the presenter, I felt at first like I wasn’t making a contribution. But after having some time to think about it , I remembered that that’s how introverts are hardwired – to think first, then speak.

So the end result is much the same – it’s just that introverts and extroverts get there in their own way, neither one right nor wrong, both making a valuable contibution.

Check out this interesting article called, Why Introverts Can Make The Best Leaders, and the book by the same author called, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength. They bring to light some of the unique strengths that introverts have, especially on the job.

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I recently did some coaching for a federal government agency’s student summer intern program. It was interesting to see what college students are thinking these days in terms of their careers, and the tools and resources available to help them in their career search.

From what I observed, most students recognize the importance of networking, which is good to see, since that’s how the majority of  jobs are found. But when I was in college, it didn’t seem like there were nearly as many networking opportunities, let alone all the online sites (like linkedin) that exist today. One of the things I found really interesting was the fact that most of the interns had at least some trepidation about networking. So we talked about networking for the introvert and some simple steps to make in-person networking less intimidating.

As for searching for specific jobs, all we basically had back in the day to help us was the newspaper want ads. There was no internet yet so there was no centralized place to search job postings. Not only that, but there was no internet to efficiently gather information about networking, interviewing, resumes, values assessment, etc…all things that students today probably take for granted. GradCapThrow

I think the interns were able to benefit from my experience, and that they for the most part embraced the coaching process. It was also nice to see though that many of them were already taking advantage of some of the online career resources. I’m just trying to imagine what the job search process will be like in another 5, 10, 20 years.

For some really good information about introversion in general, check out “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World“, by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

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