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.

We introverts can and should be proud of our valuable contributions. However, in order to be truly effective, we need to manage how we contribute. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

Pitfall #1: Being seen as “slow” or “uninvolved”

Listening carefully in a meeting or group, you test a new, innovative idea that just sprang into your head on one or two people near to you in a low voice. Ouch! The first person to speak up with the new idea gets the credit – and it isn’t you.

I can’t think how many times I have had a clever thought and handled it just like that – only to have that idea fed back to me later as fresh and brilliant – and attributed to someone else.

We may think we’re thoughtful and cautious; others may think we’re just slow on coming up with solutions.

The fix: Turn “slow” or “passive” into “thoughtful” and “careful”

Be very careful with whom you test your new ideas. The friendly sounding board you are using might not be acting in your best interests. Or, a true but bolder friend may verbalize what you shared, thinking to help your idea gain visibility. The result is the same: you’re not given the credit.

If you are self-conscious about speaking up in a group, my first advice would be, “Get over it,” but I know too well that “getting over it” is a slow process of gaining confidence in a group setting. So, another ploy is to say, “I may have some further thoughts on this, and I’d like to get back to you a little later,” or even, “I’d like to take a little time to put my thoughts down on paper.”

Teach people around you (yes, you can do this) to recognize that you are a deep thinker who provides great value when you don’t shoot from the hip.

Pitfall #2: Being seen as “sneaky”

While listening, you start to have disquieting feelings that there’s something wrong with what’s being discussed, but you’re not quite sure if you’re right and you’re really not ready to commit yourself to providing your criticism.

When we do this, we may think we’re being diplomatic and careful, and we may in fact be just that. But if we mention our thoughts later to another group member, who speaks to another … etc., etc. … we can quickly develop a reputation as “sneaky” or, at best, “cowardly.”

The fix:

Your initial silence has been interpreted as agreement; so your later criticism seems like betrayal.  

Signal your discomfort upfront by saying, “I think this needs a little more thought/research, and I’d like to get back to you with my comments.”

If, after careful thought, you decide there is no real objection to what has been suggested, you can always say, “I’ve given this considerable thought/checked the facts carefully, and I think we should go ahead.”

The biggest fix:

Learn to be proud of your introversion.

Let others around you, including managers, know that you like to think deeply about topics and can provide greater value if you feel free to take the time to do just that.  

You don’t have to be apologetic. The cultural tide is on your side; people are becoming aware that all good ideas do not come from the people who speak up quickly and the most. People are finally learning that the introvert’s great ideas are well worth waiting for.

Yes, it’s a good time to be an introvert in America.


Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.