How introverts can bring unique strengths to the workplaceFeatured

“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!

EXACTLY! I've been at this for about 40 years as of this writing. As an introvert who "survived an extroverted world", your three points are spot on.
Yes!!!! Fellow introvert here and it helps so much to learn how to unlock those superpowers...
This is music to my introverted ears. Reading β€œQuiet” several years ago was the first time I felt like it was not only ok, but also a gift to be introverted. Yet I’ve still struggled to find my place in a company that values extroversion, especially now that I’m in leadership. Thankfully, my boss is also an introvert and has shared some tips for navigating. This is wonderful advice. I especially love the idea to write down my POV ahead of meeting and to contribute early. Thanks for sharing!
I am reading "Quiet" right now and this totally resonates with me also!
I can so relate to this post. Introverts are often overlooked but we have so much to offer! How do you find being in a more senior & management role affects you as an introvert?
So glad you can relate! I do think it can be harder in senior and management roles where you're expected to react to ideas and conversations more quickly. That being said, the point around cultivating 1:1 relationships can be a super strength for building trust and getting people "on your side," especially if that's a relationship-building tactic you excel at. I also think the preparing-your-talking-points idea (and leveraging written communication to convey your vision) is important here too, so you're not caught off guard. Ultimately, I feel like so much of leadership is about getting people to trust you, to buy into your vision, and being of service to your team / organization. When people see you as a thoughtful, intentional person, that goes a long way. I also truly believe people can tell if you're being genuine vs. not, so it's best to tap into what works for you (while pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, of course :))
This is beautifully written, so relatable!!
I appreciate you posting this! It's really refreshing to hear others who see it as a strength and not something to be beaten out of you :P My boss likes to point out my introversion and tell me how I would greatly benefit to change myself basically. It's kind of disheartening. I wish more people saw it as a strength!I 100% agree with your points and especially the one about using written communication to your advantage. I similarly am much more effective at getting my points across if I can take time to write them out!
Agreed, I truly think it's a strength in so many situations. I'm glad you can relate to the points!
YES, I always feel "not enough" because I'm not constantly offering ideas or come off as not completely "polished" in some ways. While I am fine being an introvert, I sometimes have trouble accepting it as a superpower in work situations.
I also read a book called "Quiet, Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" and it was really good at highlighting why introvert traits are valued and why society tends to support extroverts. I recommend it!
I definitely believe that hiring on introverts can be often overlooked by managers. I've noticed that it's so helpful to have introverts on the team if you're trying to build deeper, actual human relationships with the people you're talking. As a fellow introvert, I felt I was overlooked in my previous sales role when I started because I didn't fit the usual mold of a loud, bubbly, extroverted person. Over time, I realized I was able to find so much success because I was actively listening and had thought out questions prepared for every conversation to keep the conversation flowing naturally. Once I realized that, I found a new inner confidence because it felt like my secret superpower where I was able to cultivate genuine relationships with the people I was reaching out to. One tip that has helped me so much in my career as an introvert that you touched on was making sure you have a few thoughtful points prepared before every meeting. The critical piece is to get these points out either in the first 5 minutes or the 5 last minutes of the meeting, so you can be remembered by everyone on the call afterwards.
I love this!! Thank you for sharing and I'm so glad you figured out your superpower. Listening actively + asking thoughtful questions is underrated.
This post was great, it just made me happy knowing that being introverted is not a bad thing. I especially liked the second point when you talked about knowing a person on deep human level. I also like to do that but honestly, I don't know how. For me even if I see the slightest indicator of someone not wanting to talk or if someone is not engaged in the conversation I go into a spiral where I regret everything I say and then I stop speaking because in my head I think I am uninteresting and they don't want to talk. Can you tell me what are the questions you ask in a 1:1, how does a 1:1 goes, what happens in it?
I have the same problem too
I have the same problem as you both have. Would like to listen how you guys tackle them in day to day life. I would like to connect with you guys. I would have messaged you but both the accounts are anonymous. Is it okay if we connect?
Thank you!That's tough- I see 1:1 conversations as a way to truly connect with people and get to know them better. When I start to feel anxious about what the other person may be thinking of me, I shift the focus to them. I ask them questions and have found that people usually always love to talk about themselves :)
Hey, that's really good advice. What kind of questions do you ask? If I were to talk to you on 1:1 what were the questions you would like to answer?
This is so incredibly helpful. Like you, I am asked to comport myself in a way that feels very extroverted, when I'd rather observe and come back with thoughts and observations. I appreciate how you found ways to weave that into your leadership style.
Great post! I'm a public speaking coach and introverts make great public speakers! Why?. Because they don't wing it. As you wrote, introverts prepare and practice. Public speaking is an important communications skill and unavoidable if you are in a leadership role, and I find that introverts don't leave it to chance. Also, introverts are also usually good observers of human behavior and they understand the importance of the delivery skills that make good public speaking. Thank you for sharing. Bravo!