I am a serial entrepreneur and CEO with extrovert tendencies, married to a serial entrepreneur and CEO with introvert tendencies. This has made life interesting, especially as we’ve built a few businesses and other enterprises together.
Although we are fundamentally different, we actually complement each other’s strengths and I have observed considerable professional advantages to my husband’s quiet tendencies.
Although conventional wisdom believes you need to be an extrovert to succeed as an entrepreneur, my experience and recent research say otherwise. There is also a false perception that introverts don’t communicate and lead with great influence or effectiveness.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
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Just look at introverted entrepreneurial leaders across business, literature, science and activism who have changed the world -- including Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, Rosa Parks and Mark Zuckerberg to name a few.
Over 50 percent of the U.S. workforce self-identifies as introvert and 64 percent of workers believe their organization does not fully harness the talents of introverted employees.
So whether you are an introvert yourself, or leading a team that includes introverts, you’ll benefit by understanding the opportunities and advantages available for introverts who want to communicate for greater results.
Here are seven tips to unleash the advantage of your introverted tendencies at work:
1. Know yourself, your tendencies and strengths.
That’s the key to maximizing your talents and putting yourself in the zone of stimulation that is right for you. You may think you are an extrovert, but may be an ambivert, which is a mix of both. That describes me; I’m energized by people, but also love to find big chunks of quiet time to think and problem solve.
2. Embrace quality over quantity in conversations.
Introverts naturally prefer smaller groups and one-on-one interaction. This tendency is actually an advantage because leaders and aspiring leaders must build trust and rapport with their management teams, key customers, analysts and even media who cover their business, and that happens one conversation at a time.
Make sure you spend time with the most important people -- those who are critical to your business success and personal happiness. Your depth and thoughtfulness will be appreciated.
3. Equip yourself with a variety of tools.
For those inevitable, yet essential social occasions (networking events, your spouse’s board meeting socials, etc.) have a few open-ended questions on hand that can deepen the conversation. Try these from introvert expert Jennifer Granneman:
- “Are you working on anything exciting lately?”
- “What has been the highlight of your week?”
- “What are your thoughts on [insert recent issue in the news lately]?”
Open-ended questions invite the other person to say more than just a few words.
4. Invest in your communications skills.
Great communicators aren’t born -- they work at it. Learning new skills doesn’t mean denying your introvert qualities, or being someone you’re not. It builds confidence for the variety of unavoidable situations you encounter. Every single person in the workplace would do well to invest in improving their communications, whether they are introverts or extroverts.
There are scores of training programs, books, conferences, online courses and coaches to meet your unique needs. Whether you’re already a CEO or on your way, you’ll be required to step up to bigger platforms and share your vision and message.
And if you think introverts can’t become extraordinary public speakers, be inspired by Susan Cain, introvert and author of Quiet in her TEDTalk about introversion; one of the most viewed TEDTalks of all time.
5. Give yourself alone-time to think, imagine.
Go with your flow and make it a priority to carve out some alone time. This is where most of your best ideas emerge -- ideas that are powerful, unique and will differentiate you and your business. Guard this time by blocking it out on your calendar.
6. Make meetings work for you.
While it’s true that too many meetings are poorly planned and poorly run, they are still opportunities for you to influence outcomes for the good. First, if you must attend a meeting, think in advance what ideas you’d like to share.
During a meeting, know that it is perfectly acceptable to not immediately answer a question. According to Val Nelson, a writer about introverts, you might say, “I’m hearing some good points, I have some thoughts brewing and would like to come back to it a bit later.” This may feel awkward at first, but both you and your colleagues will appreciate the thoughtfulness in your approach.
Also, don’t hesitate to set boundaries around how many meetings you will attend. My observation is that if you are proving yourself valuable with your ideas and work in general, you can be excused from attending a lot of unnecessary meetings.
You can even suggest changing the structure of a meeting. If someone wants to have a brainstorming session, consider doing it as an online brainstorm so that you have time to think before you contribute.
7. Go easy on yourself outside your comfort zone.
If a conversation didn’t go according to plan or ended on an awkward note, keep your sense of humor. Most people don’t notice -- and if they do, they soon forget. Spend a few moments reflecting and you’ll probably find at least one takeaway lesson for next time.
As Denis Waitley writes, “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
These seven ideas will empower you, or the introverts you know to maximize their inherent strengths and your entire enterprise will benefit.