Today, I spoke with Wendy Gelberg, who is the author of The Successful Introvert. In this interview, Wendy talks to us about introverts, how technology helps introverts become more extroverted, the difference between introverts and extroverts, the pros and cons of being introverted in the work place and various strategies that can help introverts become more successful.
Wendy, if you’re introverted, is your life over?
Not at all, Dan. Some of the most highly successful people in the world – in all walks of life – have been introverts (approximately 50% of the population, in fact). You’ll find famous people in history and politics, sports, business (including corporate CEOs), journalism, and even show business who are introverted, and many of those have also been shy – which is also not the end of the world. In fact, introverts have very definite strengths that give them an advantage over extroverts in some ways. The point is that whether you’re introverted or shy, you can make choices that will enable you to be successful and still be true to your basic personality.
What impact has technology (instant messaging, blogging, social networks) had on introverted people?
The technology you mention has had an enormous impact on introverts. One of the challenges for people who are introverted is thinking on their feet. Introverts typically need time to process a question and to formulate their answers prior to contributing their thoughts. Instant messaging, blogs, social networks all encourage dialogue that isn’t in real-time, thus enabling introverts to do precisely that.
In addition, introverts often find in-person socializing to be draining. By using this technology, introverts can build and maintain a social and professional network without depleting their energy. For people who are shy, the new technology allows some anonymity, if they prefer to lurk or to participate without revealing their identity, although people generally reap far greater rewards if they do, in fact, identify themselves.
How do you know if you’re introverted and what steps can you take to become more outgoing? Should you want to change yourself?
There are various assessment instruments that can help you determine if you’re an introvert, but you can get a pretty good idea just by looking at the list below.
- reflect before they talk or act
- are energized by solitude
- prefer socializing one-on-one to group events
- like periods of quiet; feel depleted after a lot of activity
- enjoy deep relationships with just a few select friends
- frequently turn their focus to thoughts, ideas, the inner world
- are characterized by depth of interest
- talk out loud as they think
- are energized by being around people
- enjoy large group activities
- like a lot of activities
- enjoy a wide circle of friendships
- frequently turn their focus to people, things, the outer world
- are characterized by breadth of interest
- experience feelings of self-consciousness and a fear of being criticized or judged
- can be either introverted or extroverted (and, in fact, studies show that upwards of 90% of us indicate we have felt or do feel shy at times)
It’s not necessary to undergo a personality makeover in order to be happy or successful in life (including career and job search). At the same time, it is possible – and helpful – to develop the skills that are fundamentally more challenging for you so that you can become more versatile and make conscious choices to select the skills and actions that will move you closer to your goals. That means that at times extroverts will choose to behave in more introverted ways, introverts will choose to behave in more extroverted ways, and those who are shy will choose to behave as though they aren’t.
What strategies have you found effective? Are there celebrities that do it right?
For the true introvert, giving yourself time to prepare prior to any social encounter will always be helpful. Do some research (which plays to your strengths) ahead of time, and prepare some conversation topics and possible answers to questions you anticipate being asked. And definitely pace yourself. Recognize the energy dimension of introversion and understand that large gatherings or lengthy socializing will be draining. Schedule such activities in shorter increments, if possible, or take breaks when you can so that you can retreat briefly to recharge your batteries. For the person who is shy (whether introverted or extroverted), practice is often one of the most effective strategies – simply by doing the activity that’s uncomfortable, and doing it repeatedly, can reduce the discomfort tremendously.
As for celebrities, there are lots of success stories. For example, a USA Today article described a number of corporate CEOs, presumed to be introverts, including Bill Gates (Microsoft), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), and Brenda Barnes (Sara Lee) who have mastered extroverted skills but take time for solitude to recharge. According to the article, they attribute some of their success to their introverted inclination to think before they act. They capitalize on their introverted strengths while also exercising their extroverted skills as needed to achieve their goals.
What are the pros and cons of being introverted in the workplace?
I would say that most of the negatives revolve around different aspects of the communication process. When you’re quiet and reserved, you may be perceived as aloof or snobbish when that may not be the case at all – your silence may mean simply that you are processing what’s going on around you, not that you think you’re better than anyone else. But your silence allows others to fill in the blanks with whatever assumptions they happen to make to explain why you’re being quiet. Additionally, sometimes introverts find that it’s hard to make themselves heard in a meeting because decisions are made before they’ve finished considering all aspects of the topics under discussion. Finally, because of this “think first, speak later” tendency, introverts don’t always get the recognition they deserve and may be overlooked when promotions and raises are under discussion.
Fortunately, all of these negatives can be easily addressed, simply by making a conscious effort to become more visible by communicating more actively. You can ask your manager to give you the opportunity to add your opinion after the meeting and to defer decisions until everyone has weighed in. You can make a point of initiating conversations with others to fill them in on what you’re doing.
On the other side of the coin, if you’re introverted, you bring many advantages to the workplace. That same “think first, speak later” tendency and overall calm demeanor mean fewer rash decisions or statements, which often inspires confidence and trust in those around you (again, note the list of successful business and political leaders, as well as people in other arenas). Many introverts are excellent listeners, and we use this skill to build deep relationships, an essential element in all professional endeavors. Finally, if you’re an introvert, you are likely to be perceived – and valued – as fair, thoughtful, intelligent, competent, diligent, and trustworthy – qualities that give you a solid foundation for career and life success.
Wendy Gelberg is the author of The Successful Introvert. She is the owner of Gentle Job Search/Advantage Resumes. She is a certified career coach and resume writer whose expertise is in helping people who are uncomfortable “tooting their own horn.” Designated the “Job-Hunt Pro for Introverts” for www.job-hunt.org, Wendy coaches individuals, gives workshops and writes articles and blogs on all aspects of the job search process. Samples of her resumes and career advice appear in over 20 books. Wendy has owned her business for over 10 years. She has been an introvert her whole life.