The work world is an extroverted place. Unless you have one of the loneliest jobs in the world, like a winter caretaker at Yellowstone National Park or as Fire Lookout at Gila National Forest, your role likely requires communication and collaboration with colleagues, clients, and others. For most people I meet, communication is as much as 50% of their job. Wow! For mine, it’s more!
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI), I’m a solid introvert. I identify strongly with many of the characteristics of an introvert, like:
- Being internally focused
- Enjoying concentrated thinking
- Keeping things to themselves
- Planning ahead for conversations
- Often thinking of what to say AFTER an encounter has happened
The theory of personality focuses on preferences instead of conviction. It argues that we are made in a certain way but can FLEX to another way of thinking or operating. According to Myers-Briggs, extroversion and introversion exist on a spectrum and I fall on some point in between the two ends. So, I can if I choose, operate in a more extroverted way.
As an introvert who is striving to “play” in the more extroverted business world in which we all operate, I’ve pulled together some strategies that help me stretch my own boundaries. For the introverts in our profession (which is typically about half of people we meet), there are activities and workarounds we can try. And for our extroverted readers who are coaching introverted team members, consider sharing these ideas with them, to help them come into the extroverted business world to more meaningfully take part in the conversation.
- Introverts prefer more processing time before they speak. They follow a conversational pattern of THINK – TALK - THINK. Put this on repeat throughout a discussion, and there will naturally be more pauses or spaces in the conversational flow with an introvert. For an extrovert who naturally prefers to fill spaces with words and process ideas using words, these quiet spaces can feel awkward. To comfort my conversational partner and smooth over any awkwardness, my first strategy is to be honest that I’m an introvert. I’m straight about it by saying things like, “I’m an introvert and need a little processing time. Give me a second to run that through my brain.” Then I pause and think. People are usually patient and kind and wait for me.
- Confirm receipt of messages and again, others won’t be left wondering. This works in email with responses like, “Thanks for this. I need to check a few things and will get back to you by Thursday. Does that work”? It also works in verbal conversation. I can say phrases like “good question” or “I hadn’t considered that” or “thanks for asking.” Conversation is like a tennis game and I’m saying, “I’ve got the ball and will send it back in a moment.”
- I have also found that I can think while I’m speaking if I talk my “processing” out loud. For instance, if someone says, “Renee, should we start this project on Friday or next Wednesday?” I could say, “Great question, let’s think it through. Friday is ideal because we are aiming to complete this by end of month. But Sally’s not here on Fridays, and we need her to kickstart the project communication. Plus, she’s so swamped next Monday and Tuesday with another project launch. I’m thinking Wednesday, does that work for you?” While I’d honestly prefer to take their question off to a corner and chew on it like a proverbial bone, that’s not always practical. I’m growing more comfortable spending some words talking it through.
- Commonly, I complete a conversation with someone and soon afterwards, think of another insight. We introverts beat ourselves up about this but fellow I’s, this is how our brains work. Rather than engage in the usual little voice rib-kicking me about it, I ask myself if it’s still appropriate to share it. Usually, it is! Be willing to go back or revisit topics that have already passed. A few examples:
- You’re in a meeting and working through the agenda. Once you’ve moved to a new topic, you think of something else about the past agenda item. Say, “can we go back for a minute? I’m having another thought about the timing of the project launch.”
- You send an email and then right afterwards, regret not having included a certain point. Reply to your email and adjust the subject line adding “Use this version” or “NEW” and at the top, write “I had an additional thought, so please use this revised version.”
- Yesterday you told a client you’d get them work product by Friday, but you’ve realized that isn’t feasible based on what else is on your plate. Pick up the phone and say, “John, can we discuss our project timeline again? I thought of some other factors that might impact what we agreed to.”
- As an introvert, I have an inner conversation that judges others for sharing too much about themselves. My critical inner voice turns that on me and warns me, saying “don’t be an over-sharer.” On the flip side, I realize that relationship building is a two-way street, and it can become awkward when it feels too one-sided. With that, I practice sharing more than I’m comfortable with. In doing so, I have built up a repertoire of phrases or stories that I like telling about myself. And I find that over time, it’s easier to share more organically based on interactions that occurred, or anecdotes about my day, or just what’s on my mind at the moment. It helps me to remember that I’m committed to true connection with others and in that, I have a responsibility to do my part in the process.
- One of the classic characteristics of an introvert is that we must recharge our batteries through internally focused activities. Extroverts get charged up by the conversation and interaction with others but not us introverts. Instead, after using a lot of words, we can be left depleted. Therefore, it benefits an introvert to plan for the day ahead and build in some recharge points. For me, it might be fixing lunch for 10 minutes with music playing, or sitting on the couch to play with the dog for a few, or reading a short article. Today, I’m at a conference and I’ll need to budget at least 30 minutes of recharge in my hotel room between the sessions and dinner tonight. Know thyself and plan accordingly!
It's my goal to be a great collaborator and communicator, and I’m constantly honing my skills and stretching my boundaries. I hope you’re stretching and growing, too. And for the introverts, these strategies will embolden you to get in the game more. Your thoughts and ideas are valuable and needed. I look forward to practicing with you the next time we meet!