12 Most Powerful Recommendations for Introverts in Business
Confession: I’m a life-long introvert, exceedingly so. Many of you who tune in for #LeadershipChat on Twitter every Tuesday evening, which I Co-Lead with my conspirator-in-crime Steve Woodruff, find this hard to believe.
But it’s true, and Steve and I actually bonded while hiding in a corner, suffering from “Introverts’ Exhaustion” in the midst of a high-powered SOBCon party last spring.
However, I never let it stop me!
Here are my top 12 recommendations on using your introversion to your advantage to be wildly successful in business:
1. Rethink introversion! Recognize and appreciate your quiet strengths.
Introverts love the world of ideas, we love to reflect and we thrive on deep relationships with a small number of people who become pillars in our life.
We have the power to change the world with our ideas and we have the power to change the lives of others’ through our quiet devotion and determined support and encouragement.
These are traits to be savored and celebrated and are the foundation of success in all of life’s endeavors.
2. Acknowledge the importance of networking if you want to succeed in business
Here’s where the rubber meets the road when it comes to introverts in business.
So many people (honestly, extroverts included) think of networking as attending meetings with people who are either looking for work or looking for clients, complete with bad coffee and uncomfortable name tags.
The truth is that relationships are critical in business and are the building blocks of opportunities. It’s imperative that introverts not let the idea of “networking” intimidate them. Networking, at its soul, is all about creating relationships that grow over time and lead to personal growth, opportunity, and even lifelong friendships.
Commit to it as part of your road to success.
3. Adopt a “one-on-one” mindset and network on your own terms
Now that you’ve committed to networking, do it in a way that you’re most comfortable. Specifically, one-on-one, as that is the environment in which introverts are most comfortable and create the most valuable connection with others. Here’s how:
- If you’re in a corporation, make a list of people who are a level to two above you that you do not get a lot of interaction with and who are considered respected leaders that you would like to meet. If you’re running your own business or in a small business include people outside the organization and powerful peers.
- Email or call (or tweet!) each of these individuals separately and ask if they’d be willing to “grab a quick cup of coffee with you.” Try something along the lines of, “I am intrigued by what you’re doing in Project X and would love to see if I may be of help to you in some way…” Or let them know you have an idea you’d like to run by them, or that you’d like their advice on something…whatever is most comfortable for you and is a genuine reflection of you and your style. Most of the people on your list will gladly accept if you ask for just a “quick cup” of their time, and it will give you the opportunity to get to know this person one-on-one, which is how you’re much more comfortable, right?!
- Always end the coffee/meeting with, “how can I be of help to you?” Most people are honored to be asked and it will stand out in their minds.
- Have an answer prepared in the very likely event that the person directly asks you how they can be of help to you. Even if it’s just an introduction to someone else in the organization you’d like to meet or some advice on one of your key projects, be ready to respond if you are asked.
- Thank them for their time. Send a hand-written thank you note – again you’ll stand out and the note will be appreciated. It may even stay on their desk for a while –keeping you top of mind. I sent one recently and was told it was “the classiest gesture” the person had seen in a long time.
4. Avoid Avoidance
Tell the truth, introverts. How many events have you decided not to go to because your introversion got in your way? Go. Period. You have to show up in life and you have to show up in business.
5. Learn to stand out in a crowd – comfortably
Extroverts are generally much more comfortable being visible and attracting attention because they experience this as energizing. Introverts, on the other hand, experience heightened visibility and focused attention as “draining” and sometimes uncomfortable because it takes us out of our comfort zone.
However, introverts must learn to embrace visibility and attention in order to get their ideas heard, have their leadership talents recognized and to advance in the organization.
Start by participating in small teams where you know you can make a very large impact, or through volunteer roles where you can learn to be comfortable getting visibility and attention without the discomfort of your peers and business leaders present.
Then, force yourself to jump unabashedly out of your comfort zone by joining a critically strategic team or initiative. Rock it, and then bask in the glow of the visibility and attention.
6. Respect, and ask others to respect, your need to withdraw to rejuvenate.
After basking in the glow of visibility and attention you will return home craving privacy and time to re-charge. Actually, on virtually every day of your business life you will return home craving privacy and time to re-charge; some days more than others.
Respect this time and be clear with family, friends, colleagues and fellow conference attendees that you need to take this time for you. Everyone will appreciate you for it because you’ll be bringing your best self to them and to your work.
7. Help other recognize and respect your decision making process
I have a client that is an extreme extrovert. He thinks out loud, makes decisions as he talks and he talks a lot. I’m the exact opposite. In one pivotal conversation we had he commented, “I can always tell you hate an idea I have if you get extra quiet.”
I was thrilled he said that because it couldn’t have been further from the truth! I corrected him saying, “When I get extra quiet I’m just thinking hard about what you said. I’m an introvert, I think inside my head.”
It really did change the level of understanding between us; so much so that he recently exclaimed, “I love those pauses I hear when you’re thinking!”
8. Be open with your boss about what enables you to perform best
Having recognized your need to think through decisions and not simply respond outright to questions, talk with your boss, peers and important stakeholders about this.
If they put you “on the spot” in a meeting don’t panic, simply make it clear that you need to give the issue further thought, and why.
Ask for one-on-one meetings with your boss or small meetings with peers to work through decisions, and always try to do this prior to major (more visible) meetings to prevent being put on the spot in the first place.
9. Embrace the world beyond ideas
I met with a CEO who was dealing with a troubling situation. Her customers were very unsatisfied with one of their company processes and the C-Level executive in charge refused to meet with customers to understand why and to find opportunities for improvement.
When I asked why she remarked, “He’s an introvert, he’s not comfortable going beyond his own world. He’s otherwise great at his job; I don’t know what to do.”
This executive is holding himself back. Don’t let the same happen to you!
As much as the world within our heads can be a truly magical place, it’s imperative to embrace and understand the outside world in order to thoroughly understand our customers, competitors and industry trends. An inability to do so will prevent talented individuals from reaching their true potential. And it will make it very difficult to take your vision and bring it to life.
10. Reach out to others and watch the magic occur
Something I wish I’d realized much earlier in my career is that virtually everyone is introverted to some degree and that most people are uncomfortable in a new situation and with people they’ve never met.
You are not alone.
Many people have a hard time being the one to extend themself because they either don’t know what to say or are afraid the other person will have no interest in talking with them.
Once I realized that if I extended myself – made the first effort to extend my hand, introduce myself and offer a very genuine smile, 90% of the time I was actually helping the other person out immeasurably! I was putting others at ease.
When I learned to enthusiastically make that first, warm, genuine introduction of myself, what I received back was invariably a warm, genuine “it’s so nice to meet you” in response! It was like magic I had never known about and wished I’d found sooner!
11. Learn to motivate others by being fully present, connecting and leading from within
Sometimes as a leader you motivate individuals one-on-one and sometimes you’re in a position of “rallying the troops.” Regardless of the size of the group you are communicating with, motivation only comes when you genuinely connect with people as individuals. Remember, this is something introverts excel at!
I love the example of Saint Joan of Arc to remind us of the unique motivational power that simply being visibly present with our teams can have. This is something introverts must understand and commit to.
We can connect with others most genuinely by looking them in the eyes and by bringing our true selves to the table. Even when speaking to a large group, I work to connect with people one-on-one by meeting their eyes and holding their gaze.
By doing so, your team will see that you believe in what you’re saying and that you care that they understand and are receiving your message. Looking directly at your team members is the only way to fully understand if your message is being truly heard.
This again, can be difficult for introverts because it really requires that we push ourselves outside that inner world we love so much and connect – completely – with the world of our teams and audience.
Finally, by leading from within – by knowing who we truly are at our core and bringing this true self, without any walls or masks, to the table – people will be so much more likely to trust us and to allow themselves to be motivated by our words and deeds.
12. Own Your Power
Introversion is a powerful force, and the only thing stopping you from succeeding is you. As I said at the beginning, “Rethink introversion!”
Recognize the strengths that being an introvert empowers you with and go out confidently in the world to make the difference you are meant to make on your terms!
For more advice see Lisa Petrilli’s The Introvert’s Guide to Business and Leadership Series, which includes advice for Extroverts as well!
Featured image courtesy of h.koppdelaney licensed via creative commons.