An Open Letter to Extrovert Leaders: How understanding 50% of the population will improve your productivity and innovation

 

Hello, Extrovert Leaders! How are you? I’d love to meet you in person, but I seldom have the chance.

You see, I give talks on how organizations are overlooking and under-utilizing the people who are generally called introverts, whom I call “quietly brilliant.” (The term introvert is fine, even though in our society the label is too often confused with shy or neurotic.)

When I give my talks, the room is generally crowded – sometimes with standing room only – with introverts. I’m grateful for the enthusiasm but sad that I am repeatedly preaching to the choir. Introverts are grateful to have their positive attributes discussed openly, along with ways leaders can help them engage. But they often say the same thing, “The person who needs to be here isn’t. I wish my extrovert supervisor could hear this.”

So I’m asking you: why do you not come? Is it that you think you don’t need to know how to engage with us because there aren’t that many of us in the workplace? Perhaps you don’t realize introverts are over 50% of the population; this would include your employees, staff, and team members.
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Is Introversion Main Stream at Last?

 

The topic of introversion has now entered the mainstream. How can I tell? This topic, which I have championed for so many years (full disclosure: I am an introvert), has now appeared in one of my favorite comic strips, and I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In the Dilbert strip of July 23, an introvert appears and utters all of the stereotypes about introverts being despairing, lonely, and avoidant of conversation. Introversion has become part of the workplace diversity conversation, and that’s a good thing. Picking up on that trend, Dilbert, which satirizes workplace behavior, has now made this contribution, and I know it’s satire; nevertheless, I seem to have lost my sense of humor.
You see, I also know that introverts, no matter how skilled or intelligent, tend to be the last-hired. I know, from studies such as that done by Ones and Dilchert (Industrial & Organizational Psych, 2009), that introverts constitute only 12% of supervisors, and that percentage decreases as you go up the managerial levels, dwindling to a scant 2% at the very top. At the same time, the presence of extreme extroverts rises to 60% at the top.

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Networking Is A Life Skill

I hear it over and over again: “I can’t network. I’m an introvert.” “I don’t know what to say.” “I don’t want to brag.” A lot of people don’t like networking, but the bulk of them seem to be introverts.

I’m an introvert, too, and I’m also an entrepreneur, having to teach myself along the way how to reach out and build that body of interested people who support and buy what I do. To make it even harder, I retired in California, moved back to Minneapolis, waited a few years, and then found I wanted to start a business in a city where I had no business contacts and only one friend (a nun).

Business coaches stymied me from the start, because they would start by saying: “First, send a warm letter to all of your friends, telling them what you’re doing and asking for their support.”

Oh. A fellow coach wailed that she only had 100 friends on her Christmas card list, and I was awed by her popularity. This was an exercise at which I never excelled, because my Christmas card list was five.
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Social Confidence and “Extrovert Skills”

“I used my extrovert skills.” “I had to learn some extrovert skills.” “Oh, well, I don’t have extrovert skills.” I hear these phrases all the time – and they drive me crazy.

When did the ability to be socially graceful or to display good manners become the sole province of one group of people, one temperament?


Good social behavior is within the reach of every human being, no matter how quiet or even shy you may be. As an introvert, you may need to protect yourself from too much stimulation, but you shouldn’t protect yourself from connecting with others.

The problem, many introverts assure me, is that it takes too much energy to relate to others. Well, anything you don’t know how to do well takes more effort and involves more stress. Swimming, running, public speaking, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey … the list is endless.

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Business Coaching and Introverts

When you hire a business coach and develop a program or product, the first marketing instructions you get will probably be something like this: “Contact your friends, send them a warm letter, offer them your services or product, and ask them if they know people who would be interested.” Bingo! You’re on your way with a marketing list, sure to grow as your friends enthusiastically spread the word.

Oh.

A typical introvert, I have spent my life making a few very deep friendships. Not for me the inclusion in the circle of giggling young women who took coffee breaks and lunch together every day, celebrating life events. When they were discussing a shower for one of their members, I was drinking coffee and reading a book. Their lunchtime group shopping tours were a far cry from my lunchtime exploratory (and solitary) walks.
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The Unintended Consequences of Being an Introvert

As more and more attention is being paid to introversion, thanks to Susan Cain and her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” the world is slowly becoming aware of introvert value and, what’s better, willing to make some adjustments to accommodate introverts and recognize our ability to make valuable contributions. For example, Steelcase, an international company providing “office furnishing solutions,” has designed a special “Susan Cain room”: a soundproofed room to which an employee can retreat for respite from the stimulus overload of a busy office.

Yes, being quiet can be a good thing: during quiet times we can collect information carefully, digest it, ponder it, and come up with innovative solutions. All of these are important contributions to organizations, productivity, innovation, and our own (I’m an introvert, too) sense of pride.

Introversion, Gut Feelings, and Trust

Maybe – just maybe – your gut-level feeling that you shouldn’t be doing something is right. But if you’re an introvert, you’ve probably had a lifetime of being told to ignore your feelings, and urged to act just the opposite.

Want to stay home and read? “What’s the matter with you, anyway?” It’s implied that you’re neurotic or even antisocial. Want to leave a party before it ends? “You’re a party-pooper.” Find large groups overwhelming? “Just get out there and have fun (said with incredulity)!” (Even though the event gives you a headache or even nausea.) Enjoying being quiet and listening when in a group? “You’re shy, aren’t you?” a shaming label if ever there was one.
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Transforming your year

Everyone tells you that you must have a clear vision of where you want to go and who you want to be. Not everyone tells you exactly how – and how not – to get to that vision.

 

For example, suppose you want a life in which you are well paid and appreciated for your work. You want warm relationships and the time to pursue them.

But suppose your nagging belief is that it’s simply not possible. After all, you’ve spent years piling up evidence to tell you that.

So you sit down, meditate, and envision in exact detail what you want. You then open your eyes and everything is still the same.

Vision isn’t enough

A fellow coach tells the story of a woman to whom he was talking. She had a serious weight problem, and he asked her what she was doing to challenge it. She replied that she sat on her sofa every day for thirty minutes and visualized herself losing weight.

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The Holiday Time and Energy Bandits

Time and energy bandits are habits and thought processes that can suck you dry, leaving you exhausted and harried.

One of these bandits, which particularly rears its head at the holiday season, is perfectionism.

Now perfectionism is a wonderful trait – in its place. Some of the places where it is advisable to practice perfectionism include brain surgery (or any kind of surgery), pharmacy, air traffic control, operation of any kind of heavy equipment, including motor vehicles, or any other activity that seriously threatens the health and safety of living things.
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Introvert Nervousness – Friend or Foe?

 

“I’m now able to give a talk in public, but I’m still nervous. I guess I won’t ever get over it.” The speaker was a woman in one of my seminars, and the topic was introversion and public speaking. Her assumption was that because she was an introvert, nervousness was always there, ready to undermine her performance and her confidence, and she would never be free of that awful feeling. 


After she spoke, I reflected that, years ago, I returned to dance after taking a few years off to go to college. At my initial return performance, I was overwhelmed by fear that I would fail miserably and embarrassingly. As my partner and I got into the opening pose just before the curtain went up, I was dismayed to find that his hand, which I was holding, was shaking badly. Just before the curtain rose, he said to me quickly, “Remember, this is energy. Use it!”
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