About 15 years ago, I was asked to serve on the board of a nonprofit that I had been affiliated with for many years. I chaired a particularly contentious meeting and used a lot of humor to break the tension in a way that defused some of the rancor and allowed us to discuss a difficult topic.
After the meeting, a board member that I had known for many years only in the context of this nonprofit came up to me and said, “Thanks, I had no idea that you were funny.”
This comment came as a surprise. I love humor. I’m not a world-class comedian by any standards, but I often find moments of levity (or absurdity) in the situations around me and then share them with others (with varying levels of success). But, this nonprofit was a pretty staid place, and there were few situations in which I thought it was appropriate to let that side of my personality shine through.
I think a similar thing happens to a lot of extroverts out there. Extroversion is one of the Big Five personality characteristics. It reflects people’s motivation to be engaged and visible in social situations. Extroverts like to engage with lots of people, to speak in public, and to be noticed for positive things they are doing in group situations.
However, research on personality consistently demonstrates that the situations people are in have a stronger influence on behavior than the motivation provided by personality traits. That is, most people find a way to act appropriately in social settings.
Why you hide your extroverted side
Even if you’re an extreme extrovert, you may find that many people in your workplace are unaware of that, particularly early in your career. This may be particularly true for your supervisors. Often, when you first start out in an organization, you have few chances to be the focus of attention. You are taking orders from others and attending presentations rather than giving them. You may not have a lot of social time with many of the people above you on the food chain either. Plus, when you are new to any organization–even in a more senior role–you should listen more than you speak in order to ensure that you understand the workplace and its culture. So, people might not get to know how outgoing you like to be.
Speak up about your love of speaking up
There are lots of opportunities for which your extraversion might be a good fit. Having the chance to interact with clients, to give presentations, or to take people to dinner might be something you would thrive on. But, you might not get asked to take on these responsibilities if people don’t know how much you would enjoy them.
Which means you need to tell them.
Strange as it may seem, you might need to go out of your way to let your supervisors know how much you enjoy being out in front of people. This is a case where you want to tell people what you want rather than showing them. There is no need to call attention to yourself inappropriately at work just to let people know you enjoy these interactions. Instead, sit down with your supervisor and talk about ways that you might engage more with others as part of your role.
As an added bonus, if you really like public speaking, you may end up looking like a hero. Many people find speaking in public to be stressful and a chore. So, if it fits in your wheelhouse, they will be happy to turn presentation duties over to you.