“I can’t believe you’re an introvert! You seem like such an extrovert” – a lot of people who meet me.
I attribute this mis-identification to two main reasons:
1) people equate being introverted to being socially awkward and anxious, while all it means is that you derive energy from spending time alone (I am very comfortable being social and immersing myself in community, but I recharge by being alone),
and 2) we reward extroverted behavior and make introverts fit a behavioral mold that is draining to them.
After spending years being told to act in ways that felt inauthentic to me, I realized I could bring unique value and perspective by simply doing things my way, as an introvert.
Leading in a way that feels inauthentic to myself is not only draining, it is also unsustainable. I no longer wanted to feel like I would never be “enough,” just because I am not an extrovert – I now firmly consider my introversion to be my superpower.
Though extroverted behavior is rewarded disproportionately, introverts bring unique strengths to the workplace and to school. By capitalizing on our strengths as introverts, instead of trying to fit extroverted molds, we can lead authentically and succeed as our best selves.
These are some of my insights from nearly a decade of being both an individual contributor and a leader in extroverted-behavior dominated environments (in workplaces and in my MBA program):
1. I use written communication to my advantage.
Reacting to discussions in real-time makes me anxious and I often mull over meetings long after they are done. I get my ‘aha!’ moments when it feels like it is too late.
Because it is the norm in western business environments to have quick discussions and I want to be involved in a way that feels ‘right’ for me, I now prepare my point of view in advance of meetings by writing it down. I jump in with my perspective early on in meetings, so that I don’t feel pressured to come up with something new if someone has already “taken my point.” I am also transparent with my teams and managers; I tell them that I like to communicate in a written format, and will often follow up via email/chat before or after meetings with additional perspectives.
2. I intentionally cultivate and nurture 1:1 relationships.
While I actually love public speaking, I don’t love small group discussions. I fare best in either huge settings where I am presenting, or in deep 1:1 conversations. Knowing this, I reach out to friends and colleagues all the time to have 1:1 conversations. I use my 1:1 time to really learn about people, how they feel, what makes them tick. I dislike frivolous conversations; I get energy from getting to know people at a human, vulnerable level. I build trust and deeper connections by leaning into the relationship-building method that works best for me.
3. I ask a lot of questions, and I prepare my point of view in response to these questions.
Though I don’t always feel comfortable reacting in real-time to discussions, I am a naturally curious person with a bright and dynamic inner world. I’ve been told over and over again that I ask thoughtful questions and help push my teams to think deeper and get to the true root of problems.
Instead of having a snap reaction to everything, I like to pause and explore a problem before jumping to conclusions. As I’ve gotten more senior in my career, I’ve also recognized that it’s not enough to just ask questions – I now also articulate a point of view in response to my questions. This helps me shape and drive conversations.
The best way to show up as an introvert in an extroverted-behavior dominated world is to be authentic and capitalize on your strengths as an introvert. Trying to be someone you are not is not only draining, it is also unsustainable. Remember, the loudest voice in the room is not always the best; you have so much value to add, so don’t sell yourself short.
Learning to 1) manage your ways of working (to get to the same outcome but in a different way than an extrovert would), and 2) find what works for you and feels most real to you will take you far.
I hope this encourages my fellow introverts to explore what feels authentic to you. Are there any other tips you’d add? I’d love to hear from you!