It always comes as a shock when I confide to acquaintances that I am actually an introvert. People laugh, then stop, stare at me for a long moment, and then say, unbelievingly,”Really??!”
Apparently, I project something completely different in networking and business situations.
But this appearance isn’t purely accidental. It’s been a carefully crafted approach, simply because I realized early on that by being a wallflower introvert, a whole lot of opportunity was going to pass me by.
I think the pivotal moment came during my first office job where I had to attend networking functions for up to six different chambers of commerce.
That penciled out to a whole lot of talking to strangers. Suddenly, my shyness took over, and I found myself shrinking back into the furthest corners of the room in order to get out of arm’s length of contact with strangers.
Then, I realized that I couldn’t spend my life being like other introverts, and having such a liability was going to hold me back from career opportunities.
Fast forward to the other day. I was in the car listening to National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” which had a segment called “The Quiet Strength of Introverts in the Workplace” which had a guest discussing the need for employers to balance introverts with extroverts within the workplace.
My radar went up, and one comment made by the segment guest, Anita Bruzzese, really stuck with me: “You can’t have a company full of risk-taking extroverts who can talk a good game.”
Introverts are not all about being shy (at least not all the time). People who share this personality trait simply need more time alone to think things through. This often translates to needing space and/or quiet time to process information, but in the end, having this opportunity helps introverts formulate how they can collaborate with others and get the task at hand completed.
One of the biggest challenges that I have faced, like so many other introverts, was developing confidence in myself. After getting a solid footing in my career, it no longer became a question of whether I could actually do the work… it then shifted to whether I could actually talk about it in a way that conveyed the confidence that I had in my skills.
Just because introverts are quiet doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to contribute. Smart bosses and companies realize that it is in their best interests to develop introverts in a way that taps into their natural strengths while building up their confidence levels. As Ms. Bruzzese mentioned, having 100% alpha dogs at the top of a company doesn’t bode well for its future… having the balance of introverts in leadership roles can help create a good ratio of calculated risk taking to mitigated risk factors to find that happy medium.
So, how did I overcome my own trouble with being introverted? Learned to walk up to strangers, stick out my hand, and say hello. Learning how to start the conversation is the first step, and from there, you’ll start to hit your stride.
And it is ok to still be an introvert. If you learn to manage it well, you can actually be both an introvert and an extrovert, and enjoy the benefits of each!
Image By Sureshbmani (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons