I spent too many years as an introvert wondering why I didn’t fit at work. I started my career in a busy and “peopley” FTSE 100 press office in the mid-1990s.’ In subsequent corporate marketing roles, I wondered why I didn’t quite fit. I didn’t speak up in meetings, I hated team away days and open plan offices left me drained and unproductive. The phrase, “shall we brainstorm that?” left me feeling anxious. My best ideas came in moments when I had peace and quiet. Does any of that sound familiar?
It took until I was into my 40s to give these superpowers a name. I was studying for a Master’s Degree and we examined personality profiles. I learned then that I was an introvert. And in a room full of extroverted men, I suddenly realised why I didn’t fit! But it surprised me to find that over 40% of the population are also introverts. And yet the world seems to value extroverts. The popular idea of a marketing team is a room full of enthusiastic people brimming with great ideas that they are desperate to share. Compared to my peers I felt second rate.
What I didn’t realise then, but have learned in detail in the 11 years since leaving the corporate world, is that introverts have many specific skills that make us invaluable at work. One of the key differences between introverts and extroverts is the way we communicate. An introvert’s communication process tends to be ‘think, say, think’. This means when we are asked a question, we want to give it due consideration. When we give our answer, it is what we really want to say. The danger of course is that it can take time to think our answer through, and the conversation may have moved on by the time we are ready to speak.
The extrovert process is ‘say, think, say’. They make sense of their thoughts by hearing themselves speak them out loud. For introverts this can feel noisy and ill-considered, as if the speaker is wanting to be the centre of attention. For extroverts this is an entirely sensible way to express themselves and order their thoughts.
Given those key differences, what are the strengths of introverts? There are many, and we don’t all possess all of them, but they include:
Introverts generally wait to speak until we have something to say. We take information in, process it and turn it around. This makes us excellent listeners and observers. So often we won’t say very much, but what we do is often relevant and important.
Professor and author Dr Laurie Helgoe suggests that introverts tend to be more critical. As a result, we are more realistic when it comes to weighing feedback and analysing information. She says “Introverts internalize problems: we like to take things inside and work on them there.” There is a suggestion that introverts are less likely to look for external validation of ideas, being comfortable to think things through before speaking about it to anybody.
Introverts aren’t as easily led astray by happy distractions, such as recognition among peers, the number of social media followers they have or a fun new marketing app to try. Given the right conditions, we can focus on the important tasks.
If we can listen, think and focus with some degree of skill, it follows that we have the ability to consider and eventually solve a tricky problem. It takes staying power and a determination to really understand what the problem is about and find the solution.
Because we don’t need external stimulus in the way our extrovert colleagues do, we are much more comfortable working and thinking in solitude. We can take this time and space to simply think, which can present solutions to corporate challenges.
Given all this talent sitting quietly in your office, how can you make the most of your introvert team members?
Ensure quiet places to work
The move to open plan offices has not allowed introverts to bring our best selves to work. Offering quiet places to think at work or supporting home working, where introvert colleagues can focus and problem solve, will enable them to work more effectively.
Provide agendas or discussion points in advance of meetings
If you want your introvert colleagues to contribute to any team working situation, share the agenda or ask in advance what you want to gain. Introverts appreciate time to think about their contribution or the solution in advance rather than create one on the spot.
Don’t insist on doing it your way
Your introvert team members are just as capable of giving presentations and making successful sales pitches but they may want to do it differently from their extrovert counterparts. They may want to prepare their presentation in more detail or take time out after the meeting to recharge in solitude. Sales relationships may be forged one on one over time, leading to successful long term relationships. Be clear about the outcome you want, but don’t dictate the process. Your introvert team members will find their own way to achieve the end goal.
Ultimately, introverts are a significant part of the working population and have valuable skills. Introverts are your superpower Understanding the introverts in your business, and being open to different ways of working, will ensure you get the most out of them at work.
Jenny Procter is a UK based marketing consultant, podcaster and author. Her new book “Marketing for Introverts, how to love it plan it and do it so you can quietly (and successfully) promote your business in a noisy world” is available on Amazon.
For more thoughts on introversion, listen to the Marketing for Introverts podcast.