Learning to Introvert


photo credit: JoeInSouthernCA via photopin cc

I’m an introvert. There, I said it. And being an introvert in a large corporation is stressful. Sometimes it’s very stressful. It’s not that I’m lacking confidence, skill, or ability, but the people skills required inside the corporate world can be overwhelming to an inexperienced introverted professional. This blog post is dedicated to situations and ideals I’ve had to work through in order to keep my calm in a world that seems to demand constant socializing.

So first, what defines an introvert? Wikipedia defines introversion as “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life”. Extroversion is defined as “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with obtaining gratification from what is outside the self”. I wouldn’t say I’m a pure introvert, but if introversion and extroversion were on a scale from 1 to 10, I think I’d like be a 3. I enjoy time alone. I enjoy spending time with people, but lots of people is terribly exhausting. So exhausting that if I have a really intense day, I require some alone time just to recharge. My fiance is the opposite, a super extrovert, who gets his energy from other people. Together we’ve learned to compromise over the course of our relationship and our different needs. This has definitely helped me over time in the corporate world.

So here’s a few lessons I’ve learned.

  1. Socializing is a requirement. Interviews, meetings, conference calls, the list goes on and on about the need to communicate with other people. And that’s good, but for an introvert, it can get overwhelming quickly. Interviewing is by far one of the scariest because introverts can come off as cold, shy, lacking confidence, and that ultimately can lose you a job. As an introvert you have to get a grasp on small talk, stay engaged in the conversation, and practice listening skills (introverts are naturally skilled at this). You can be the best employee ever, but if you aren’t tending to your garden of relationships, you won’t be able to lean on these relationships when you need them personally or professionally. And you know what they say in the corporate world, “It’s all about who you know, not what you know.” One of my personal goals is that it’s about WHO and WHAT you know that really stands out.
  2. Assertiveness does not equal confidence. I think overly assertive people (extroverts especially) sometimes get the benefit of being seen as confident, but that doesn’t always play out. Being overly assertive (from my view) sometimes shows a lack of confidence in one’s skills or understanding of a specific situation. As an introvert, I’m not always the first to speak up about what I know, but I’ve grown confident enough in my own skills and abilities that it’s important to contribute to a discussion you’ve been invited to. Your coworkers should have a grasp on your abilities, so if they are bringing you in, they value your input. Be confident in that and make sure you get your point across. In some cases, you need to learn to be assertive of your points, especially if you are confident in those points. The risk of not speaking up might allow your team to head down a path that is not good for your organization.
  3. Good listeners are not as common as you think. Everyone likes to say they are good listeners. It’s not true. Good listeners are engaged and actively thinking about what is being said in that moment. They are taking mental (or physical notes) and following along with the person talking. Bad listeners jump into the conversation and start making their perceived assumptions, without letting the person finish their statement. As introverts, we can get stuck up in our head, so it’s important we learn to focus our attention as best we can on the conversation at hand and understand that we can be bad listeners too. This is something I’m still working on, but slowly getting better at. Being ready to jot something down has really helped me stay focused on what is being said instead of running down a rabbit hole in my mind, or jumping into the conversation and veering a conversation off track.
  4. Not always talking is a strength, embrace it. This point goes back to a couple of the previous ones. We should be confident in what we say, and we should be good listeners. This doesn’t mean we have to fill a meeting and constantly talk. You’ve probably seen that guy, he can talk to you about anything and everything. He will talk to fill silence. He will compare it to every past project he’s ever worked on. It doesn’t always mean he knows what he’s talking about. As an introvert, I’ve sat in meetings and not talked much, merely listening and thinking about the challenge at hand. When it presents itself, being able to use your lack of input might emphasize the powerful statement you may make. Choose your words well, especially if that’s that only words you’ll offer.

In a world dominated with egos and extroverts, us introverts have to make sure we are heard. As I continue the journey of my career, I’m getting better at using my introvert talents and not letting them become flaws. At the end of the day, it’s important to know my limits and how to cope with them and plan accordingly in advance. It’s not always sunshine and butterflies, but we can and have to be heard.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you use your talents to your advantage? Would love to hear about it in the comments.

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