What do Albert Einstein, Warren Buffet, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Darwin, and Rosa Parks have in common?
Yes, they are all leaders who made an impact on their world, but what most people don’t know is that they were all introverts.
In previous centuries our culture valued quiet integrity and introspection. But in today’s culture the emphasis on personality and striving to be noticed has propelled a certain type of person to be valued.
That person speaks fast, loud, and a lot. They think while they are speaking. This is the extrovert.
The introvert, who articulates their ideas in their head before speaking, is quiet and reserved and has been pushed to the background: you'd never see Einstein or Gandhi in a boardroom these days.
As a result, the most creative ideas aren't always heard, but the loudest definitely are. For one, introverts predicted the housing bubble crash long before it happened, but nobody was listening.
There is a huge waste of talent that organizations can ill afford to lose. Organizations need to harness the best of all its employees, be they extrovert and introvert.
One of the common misconceptions regarding introverts is that they are shy and extroverts are outgoing. Those traits are only the outward actions and appearances that we observe between the two groups.
Carl Jung, who made the terms extrovert and introvert popular, claimed that the difference between them was how they gained energy. Introverts gained energy from spending time alone. When around others for too long they find their energy drained. They are not necessarily shy or withdrawn, they just need to get away to recharge themselves.
Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from others and find their energy being drained when they have to spend time alone.
The other important finding that came from Carl Jung was that introversion and extroversion are extremes on opposite ends of the scale, and most people fall somewhere between the two. In fact he had this to say about the two extremes:
There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.
Psychologist Hans Eysenck claimed that the different levels of arousal resulted in the difference between introverts and extroverts. He proposed that introverts are aroused quicker and extroverts need more stimulation to be aroused. This explains why introverts can become overstimulated and need to get away and recharge. Finding it harder to become stimulated, extroverts need to work harder at it by putting themselves in situations with others, creating novelty, adventure, and change in their lives.
While quiet people may have trouble being heard over all the noise, they do have attributes that they can learn to use in ways that will help them stand out:
Since introverts like to be prepared and think things through before speaking, meetings present a challenge for them. Often the more outgoing members hijack meetings and get all of the attention.
If you are a quiet person, suggest to your manager and team that meetings be scheduled so that everyone has a certain amount of time to speak. Introverts like to prepare, and having a certain amount of time allocated will ensure that they are heard. It also cuts down on interruptions and free-for-all sessions that work to the advantage of the loud personalities in the group.
Suggest that everyone prepare what they are going to say ahead of time and send it to the other team members. If your manager and the team insist on a loose meeting structure, you can still ask for specific time to do a presentation that you have prepared. Let everyone know that you will answer questions at the end when you are complete. Claim your time and protect it.
One of the best ways of being noticed is to become an effective public speaker and be able to think on your feet. For introverts both can be difficult and the thought of public speaking can be terrifying.
That is where organizations like Toastmasters International can be a great help. In a supportive environment, even the shyest people can overcome their fears and increase their confidence in speaking to groups of people. Table topics, an aspect of toastmasters that challenges members to speak off the cuff on a topic that they are given, is a great way to learn and master the skill of speaking on your feet.
Introverts often find themselves on the sidelines at work, watching groups of extroverts carrying on long conversations with colleagues and chatting up the boss. Often they feel left out as they don’t feel as they have the same time of influence on their colleagues or their managers. Since managers may not know as much about their quieter members, who tend to share less information about themselves, they may be less comfortable in recommending them for promotion.
One advantage that introverts have in their interactions with others is their listening skills. These can be used to develop deeper relationships that will connect them with their coworkers and managers.
In one-to-one situations they can get to know people on a deeper level, remembering important things about them to ask them about in later conversations.
For example, remember the things that are important to your boss, such as the names of his wife, children, dog, and his favorite music. If you have a trouble remembering make a point of writing it down right after speaking to him. Then before you talk to him again, review the information and look for opportunities to seamlessly ask him questions about his favorite things in a one-to-one conversation.
Remembering things about people and asking them questions will subconsciously make them remember you. Everyone loves to talk about themselves and has a special place in their heart for people who remember what is important to them and take the time to listen to them.
[Image: Flickr user Nathan O'Nions]