Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto
I am an introvert. This reality revealed itself when I was very young. My mother would hand me a pot and a few utensils, and sit me on the tiled kitchen floor where I’d play on my own for hours. My older brother, on the other hand, was not tuned inward. Speaking freely to any stranger in his path, he demanded my mother’s attention with his nonstop chatter.
Of course, I was not the first of our family’s introverts—in fact, I come from a long line of them. My grandmother’s entrepreneurial spirit was supported by my quiet immigrant grandfather, who was content staying behind the scenes. And my socially timid father chronically complained of upcoming social gatherings, though in the end he thoroughly enjoyed such events despite his reticent nature.
Throughout my early years, I remained soothed by tranquil activities. Arts and crafts and reading provided a welcome balance to the drama of school interactions and social events. However, my quiet and reserved manner didn’t prevent me from cultivating friendships. In fact, my reluctance to trumpet myself as bright and bold proved instrumental in attracting many friends. Like reading a good book, I enjoyed listening to their stories and coming up with ways to solve their problems.
Extraversion Versus Introversion
'The nature of extraversion versus introversion sparks lively conversations regarding who demonstrates which of these tendencies and why. You may have already taken one of the online tests or the formal Myers Briggs (MBTI) inventory to discover where you fall on the spectrum. 'The MBTI assessment is a psychometric questionnaire that attempts to measure psychological preferences for how people perceive the world and make decisions.
It is natural to want to fit into a category that gives us an identity, especially if that identity provides a better understanding of ourselves and others, and explains the nature of our interactions. But be careful of typecasting yourself. Instead, try to think of extraversion and introversion as natural preferences, rather than hard and fast, glued-on labels.
The Myth of Introversion
An introvert is often portrayed as someone who lacks social skills, a person who prefers to peek out from behind the curtain, satisfied to remain a spectator. In contrast, extraverts are viewed as social butterflies who bask assuredly in the limelight, assuming their place is at center stage.
Although the social swirl of life in which we engage can reflect our personality type, this common perception is not entirely accurate. The difference between introversion and extraversion has, in fact, much more to do with how we express and channel our energy.
Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not necessarily shy or antisocial. Instead, they are often sharp observers and listen well. Generally disinclined to barge in at the beginning of a meeting or social gathering, an introvert will likely stay quiet and reflective as the more effusive extraverts jump in to offer comments. Good listeners by design, introverts prefer to take in all pertinent information before speaking, but then very often surprise their audience by making relevant, thoughtful contributions.
Are You an Introvert?
Answer the following questions to help determine whether or not your personality type falls within the spectrum of introversion:
- I love chatting people up.
- I hate small talk and like to get to the point.
- I am more interested in what’s happening around me.
- I am more interested in my own thoughts and feelings.
- I am often described as energetic and active.
- I am often described as calm and reserved.
- I enjoy working with groups more than working independently on my own.
- I can work with groups but crave time to work alone.
- I am one of the first to respond to a sudden or unexpected question.
- I hope that someone else responds first to a sudden or unexpected question.
- I tell it like it is.
- I keep my thoughts close to the vest.
- I tend to think out loud.
- I think before I speak.
- I easily initiate conversations at networking and social events.
- I enjoy listening to people when I first meet them at networking and social events.
- I enjoy going out with friends or family on a weekend night.
- I enjoy staying at home with a good book or movie on a weekend night.
- I have a general idea of what I will talk about at a meeting.
- I plan in advance specifically what I am going to say at a meeting.
- I can stay to the bitter end at a good party.
- I am ready to leave the party after a few hours.
If you answered b more frequently than a, it is likely that you lean toward introversion.
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Are You an Intro-Extravert?
If you came out in the middle when you completed the questionnaire, you might be what I like to call an “intro-extravert.” As I mentioned earlier, these personality types are merely preferences—not set in stone—and can therefore be influenced.
The environment, for example, can enhance or otherwise affect personality type. Even if you consider yourself naturally introverted, you might experience situations that require more extraverted skills. As you develop these skills, you might achieve a higher comfort level, moving the needle of personality type a bit further to the extraversion side of the scale.
When I worked at the University of Pennsylvania, it was crucial to reach out to students, faculty, and staff to develop programs across different divisions. Equally important was to build relationships with key stakeholders. Even though I considered myself firmly placed on the introvert side of the scale, I was forced to employ more extraverted skills. Though at first this felt neither natural nor comfortable, the need to exercise new muscles built my confidence and proved to be a satisfying surprise.
As time went on, I found that I began to actually enjoy stepping out in person and online to build my personal and professional network. However, even today my personality combines the two types; as good as I felt about discovering pleasure in situations challenging to introverts, I admit that I often dread large networking events.
Balancing Introversion With A Sprinkling of Extravert Skills
In America, we live in a culture that favors extraversion. Initiative is rewarded, speaking out is cheered, and taking action is applauded. For an introvert, unfortunately, this reality can leave one walking in an extravert’s shadow. To lead happy, productive, and successful lives in this culture, introverts must first understand and appreciate their personal value, and then balance the introversion with a sprinkling of extravert skills.
In working with introverted clients, I often found that regardless of their circumstances—whether meeting with great success in their workplace or on the job hunt, seeking a new start—many questioned their personal value and ability to compete in the face of market changes. Taking cues from their experiences as well as my own personal challenges, I felt compelled to explore and uncover ways introverts can build on their strengths and confidently compete for new opportunities.
These discoveries helped me create tools to help my clients at all life stages and professional levels succeed in their careers; this, in turn, inspired me to write a book that would pass this knowledge on to other introverts, endowing them with self-acceptance, and enabling them to shine.
Today’s Whirlwind of Work
With all the mobile gadgets at our disposal, we spend hours at work and beyond responding to chats, posts, texts, and emails. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman refers to this current phenomenon as the “age of acceleration.” In our attempt to keep up with the fast pace of technological advances and withstand the undeniable impact of globalization, we find ourselves in a breathless race.
These trends are producing a new kind of uncertainty in the workplace. Artificial intelligence and automation have displaced workers in many traditional jobs. And although new jobs are still being created, many employers are finding ways to streamline costs by hiring independent contractors or temporary workers as opposed to filling permanent positions. This reality has set in motion the gig economy (hiring for a single project or task), adding to the unpredictability of the job market.
There are no firm statistics on the current percentage of US gig workers compared to permanent ones, but research conducted in 2015 by labor economists Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard and Alan B. Krueger of Princeton found that gig workers already made up 15.8 percent of the US workforce. It’s predicted that the number of gig workers will rise significantly by 2020.
Investing In Yourself
One of the most essential survival tools in this age of acceleration is entrepreneurial skill. Although you don’t actually have to become an entrepreneur yourself, your task is to think like one. Consider this new approach to your career as the “start-up of you,” a phrase coined (and discussed in their bestselling book of the same title) by LinkedIn founder Reid Hamilton and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha.7 From this view, your professional success depends on keeping yourself directed and creating your own professional opportunities.
As an investor in your personal start-up, you will achieve a competitive edge by building problem-solving skills, exercising creative thinking, sharpening written and verbal communications talents, and furthering relationship-building and collaboration. In the current workplace, the never-ending flux and controlled chaos flowing from technological acceleration will also call upon personal qualities such as initiative, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, and resiliency.
To keep that competitive edge sharp and bright in the fray of the work world, you will need to take a deep breath, accept risk, commit to lifelong learning, and tap into professional networks. So how does this environment affect introverts in particular? How do they overcome their natural anxieties to compete with extraverts and get the credit or promotions they deserve? Introverts in the workplace confront two major challenges they find especially difficult, but there are solutions.
Problems Introverts Face and How to Solve Them
Competitive, rapidly changing, and unstable (especially in the gig economy and age of acceleration) are the norms in today’s workplace. It’s an environment in which extraverts thrive but introverts often struggle. Two areas in particular cause introverts to stumble:
Demonstrate Value to Employers
Employees must perform at the highest level by solving problems, delivering positive outcomes, and introducing and/or implementing innovations and new ideas. Most important, they must shine a light on their accomplishments, as well as on their talents and skills that generated them.
This can be particularly difficult for introverts because achieving success in this environment will require speaking up, promoting oneself and one’s ideas, and taking initiative beyond the basic responsibilities of the job—all areas they can find challenging. As a result, they tend to stand on the sidelines while social dynamos with the skills and confidence to take initiative and toot their own horns get the jobs, the promotions, and all the attention.
Cultivate and Maintain Relationships
Relationships in the workplace offer mentoring and support on important projects, knowledge on current trends in that field or industry, and reinforce chances for future career opportunities. Introverts are fully capable of sustaining good relationships, but because they tend to favor privacy (that is, they are loners), they often don’t recognize the essential role relationships play in their ability to succeed in a job or career. Nor do they understand how best to reach out to initiate such relationships.
As an introvert, I was too shy to speak up at staff meetings, I couldn’t get attention for my new ideas and programs, let alone my past accomplishments. As a result, my colleagues and supervisors were not aware of my previous achievements or current projects, and I missed out on valuable opportunities and promotions.
In time, I won my battle with fear by taking risks that led to building confidence. When I finally spoke up and took credit for the good work I was doing, I was then promoted.
I knew I had to conquer my fear of self-promotion if I wanted to move toward my ultimate goal of becoming an entrepreneur with my own consulting business in career counseling. I simply had to overcome the “invisible woman” syndrome I had brought on by my own introverted tendencies!
Once again, I accomplished this by acknowledging my fears and gradually taking action. I reached out to my many professional contacts for advice and started to develop my expertise as a public speaker, presenting workshops at a variety of organizations. I designed and wrote content for my website, forced myself to grow my professional network substantially through LinkedIn, and took on leadership roles in professional associations. I also wrote and posted career advice articles on my blog and on social media.
Although I tried to conquer the introverted tendencies holding me back, I noticed that some of these characteristics could actually be used to my advantage. For instance, I discovered that my quiet manner of listening carefully to a client’s story allowed me to observe her or his problems in a deep and focused way; this translated to a real listening skill.
Then, because I needed time to arrange my thoughts until I felt ready to speak up and offer advice, I found that I possessed a deeper understanding of the roadblocks he or she faced than if I had spoken up immediately. This contemplative approach transferred to a strong analytic ability on my part and, in turn, led to becoming an effective problem-solver who is capable of devising good solutions for my clients.
©2019 by Jane Finkle. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted with permission of the author.
Publisher: Weiser Books, an imprint of RedWheel/Weiser.
The Introvert's Complete Career Guide: From Landing a Job to Surviving, Thriving, and Moving on Up
by Jane Finkle
In today's fast-paced, unstable workplace achieving success requires speaking up, promoting oneself and one's ideas, and taking initiative. Extroverts, fearless in tooting their own horns, naturally thrive in this environment, but introverts often stumble. If you question your ability to perform and succeed in this extroverted work culture, The Introvert's Complete Career Guide is custom fit for you. In this supportive, all-inclusive handbook, Jane Finkle demonstrates how to use your introverted qualities to their best advantage, then add a sprinkling of extroverted skills to round out a forceful combination for ultimate career success. Finkle shares the keys to navigating each stage of professional development--from self-assessment and job searching, to survival in a new position and career advancement.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition, an MP3 CD, and as an Audiobook.)
About the Author
Jane Finkle is a career coach, speaker and author with over 25 years of experience helping clients with career assessment and workplace adjustment. Jane served as Associate Director of Career services at the University of Pennsylvania where she created and led the Wharton Career Discovery seminar, and served as liaison to recruiters from major corporations. Her newest book is The Introvert's Complete Career Guide: From Landing a Job to Surviving, Thriving, and Moving on Up. For more info, visit www.janefinkle.com.