2. Assertive influencing, and
3. Network optimization
These three things are inter-related and combine to significantly increase the organizational impact of people with introverted tendencies. Introversion was an evolutionary variation in the genes of early hominid groups to counter-balance the collaborative action orientation associated with extroversion, which of course had already yielded enormous survival advantage. Introversion evolved to discourage extremes in collaborative action and group thinking that could result in maladaptive behavior threatening our survival millions of years ago. The same is true today. Introverts when they play to their strengths bring reflection, evaluation and independent thinking to help organisations thrive.
The problem for many introverts is that organizations are social and introverts are not always at their best in social settings. In many years of assessing, observing and coaching introverts I have realized that many of them end up in specialist, niche roles that suit their temperament but these roles are rarely positions of power and influence. It is easier for extraverts to be seen and recognized as leaders. But Introverts could do more to help themselves.
1. Impression management.
Impressions do matter. Extroverts understand this. Introverts often think impressions are unimportant. Looking as if you are paying attention to the topic under discussion, staying in the discussion, avoiding long silences, giving your opinions frequently, saying when you do agree are all important indicators of being supportive to the group and not just paying attention to your own agenda. Introverts are more likely to stay silent longer, become absorbed in their thoughts, and may leave their comments to the last minute, often too late to have impact.
Introverts often underestimate how important it is to look interested, involved, and supportive to a group of peers or even direct reports. Body language can give the impression to others, unless they know you well, that you don’t care or are feeling detached. Learning to show empathy to others as human beings especially in groups and to people you do not know well, even the use of dreaded small talk are all important ways that humans show interest in each other. Introverts need to learn to do this routinely and spontaneously because these things really matter to other people. They also matter to introverts but they are often not skilled at showing it routinely.
Experiencing empathy from others is critical to in-group feeling, indicating a sense of belonging, as someone who cares and who is ready to participate. Introverts can learn these behaviors without changing their core personality. Introverts need to understand the importance of, and be skilled at, impression-management if they want to get to senior management and board positions.
2. Assertive influencing.
This is another thing that introverts find hard especially when in large groups, smaller groups that they do do not know so well, or on subjects outside their interests or direct responsibility. Introverts often speak too quietly, too briefly, with poor timing and not assertively enough.This applies in group discussions and in job interviews, and also in the dreaded group exercise in assessment or development centers. Again it is a matter of learning acting skills and not changing one's personality.
The best advice is speak up, speak longer, more frequently, with more passion and energy. Learn to talk over others, raise the pitch of your voice, and not give way when interrupted. This can feel uncomfortable but can easily be learned. Remember, many famous actors are introvert and not all successful politicians are extroverts.
Introverts often feel uncomfortable when taken by surprise or have to think on their feet. It has been said that extroverts only know what they think when they hear themselves saying it. This can be both an asset and a liability. Introverts need to prepare to be at their best. The best option is to think through possibilities, marshal your thoughts in advance of a meeting, anticipate possible challenges and counter –argument but remember timing and passion are still critical.
3. Network optimization.
Introverts are often not good networkers. They usually have a small number of people whom they trust, confide in and respect. My wife who is a clear extravert has amazing and varied networks going back over many years. When she needs information, advice, help, referrals, or even a favor she knows exactly who to contact and does so with enthusiasm and every expectation of a positive response. As an introvert I tend to rely on my own resources. I rarely involve others. As a result things can take me longer, or may be less good simply because I did not ask or approach other people.
Introverts should make network maps of all the people in the organization and outside that they would readily contact. Make separate maps for 1. information, 2. advice, 3. help, and 4. Confiding. Then set about strengthening these relationships and adding new names to the network. This is not a one-sided exploitative network. You have to work to build and maintain the relationship, making it beneficial to others, not just yourself. Many extroverts do this naturally. Introverts need to make a conscious and sustained effort.
In addition, having large goodwill networks, based on mutual respect and trust, significantly raises the introvert’s visibility, perceived qualities, and enhances their ability to influence others outside their normal sphere of operations. I wish I had done this earlier in my career. So easy to do if you are extroverted.
Personally, some advice to organizations:
Please, please avoid all-day ten-hour meetings. They are not productive and are unhealthy for everyone. Secondly, after an all-day off-site don’t force everyone to attend a long tiring dinner. Not everyone wants it, and it is likely to be a nightmare for introverts like me. Why not have a few drinks together, and the dinner is optional. So easy and it would be appreciated by so many