“A wise man once said nothing” — unknown
Open-plan offices. Management politics. Staff parties and office chit chat. Team meetings about team meetings.
The nightmares of introverts.
Early on in my career, following a project meeting with a client, I recall my manager taking me aside to tell me I needed to “work on my small talk.”
Small talk is not something I partake in. I do not enjoy it, nor do I condone it. I do not wish to exchange vague, meaningless pleasantries just to pass the time — I’d much rather retreat into my own head. I fantasize about a world where small talk does not exist.
Even though I am apparently an extroverted introvert, small talk is and will forever be a firm no. But this distinction in preferences for working styles or even different personalities had not yet made it through to my manager. In fact, I wonder how many managers it has made it through to?
To cut a long and boring and painful story short, it wasn’t long before I knew I had to leave — something inside me clicked and I knew that working for myself would be a hell of a lot more rewarding for a number of reasons.
Absence of small talk being top of the list.
The trick to navigating life as an introvert, at least in Western culture anyway, is to really, thoroughly, and boldly own it. You must know yourself and stand strong in your values.
I’m a big fan of Socrates here.
When you do understand yourself, when you know your strengths and how to optimise them — you will fly.
Take it from someone who knows — if you spend your precious time and energy trying to fit someone else’s mould, that's a recipe for some deep down dissatisfaction and dissonance.
It’s a tough old world though. In western culture we think we want our leaders to be extroverts. They make good spokespeople. They are magnetic, can lead bravely and dynamically. They are capable, they are the… ideal. It’s drummed into us from a young age.
.In western culture we think we want our leaders to be extroverts. They make good spokespeople. They can lead dynamically. They are capable, they are the ideal. It’s drummed into us from a young age.
It’s what my manager wanted from me — to be chirpy, to be chatty, to be engaging.
That’s ok, but I’m afraid it’s not me.
But that doesn’t mean you need those things to be a great leader.
You need to be able to listen — something my manager wasn’t doing when he was trying to coax me into small talk.
You need to be able to connect with people, which given the right conditions, is actually one of the introvert’s greatest strengths.
You need to be a great decision-maker. And actually, introverts tend to be great decision makers. They have strong intuition, tend not to make snap judgments, and generally don’t need the assistance of others when making important decisions.
There were definitely challenges to being an introvert in an office with others. These included but were not limited to a deep fear of the Social Committee, answering the phone, and having to attend or chair a meeting.
Having spent so long looking for “the cure” to these challenges, I slowly learned that these aren’t things to be fixed.
Understood, yes. Worked with, for sure. But fixed, no.
One day I’d love write a manual for managers of introverts to help them understand things a little better.
It would say things like:
Chapter 1. Open plan offices are nightmares for introverts.
Recommended solutions include permitting the use of headphones, having break out areas, quiet spaces.
And really, really, really nice bathrooms.
Let them work from home at least one day a week.
Let them have the option of a Christmas bonus instead of an office party, if they choose.
These are the sorts of things that will make your introverts feel a lot more comfortable.
I’m still healing from working in environments, and in a society that worships extroversion while totally misunderstanding introversion.
For all it might seem on the outside, we are not anti-social. We are not incapable. We are not even bad leaders. Indeed, in Asian culture, the ideals are reversed. Extroversion is frowned upon, and the qualities of the introvert are sought after.
Learning to see these introvert qualities as strengths and not weaknesses helped me to step back from the round hole, that as square peg, I was incessantly throwing myself at and forcing myself into.
That constant battle exhausted me. It ate away at my soul.
But in seeking out the “hole” that I fitted into, perfectly, like a glove, like second skin … well there’s nothing else quite like it on earth.
Here are some ways that introversion can serve you powerfully in business:
1/ You are quiet.
My dad used to say, “You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.”
By nature, you listen. You reflect. You think. This means that you are more likely to notice things that others might just stampede over. It means you absorb information and spend time formulating your opinion, instead of spouting out anything that comes to mind.
2 / You listen.
Being a good listener will also make you a deeply powerful sales person — using the skills of deep, active listening means that you are more likely to be attentive to your clients needs.
This may come as a surprise when we are so used to extroverted messages from people trying to sell us on this that and the other.
Listening is the higher path.
3/ You know your needs.
Knowing that you need solitude, time to recharge, and space means that you can get what you need before you burn out. The trick is to pay attention to do this and do it. As an entrepreneur in charge of your own schedule and your own income, this becomes vitally important — and working for yourself gives you the freedom to build it in.
4/ You are compassionate.
I’m yet to meet an introverted person who isn’t compassionate. You like to put others needs first, the well being of the group is important to you, and this makes you an excellent convenor, leaders and delegator.
Your team will love you, because you understand and value their needs.
5/ You trust your intuition
Double checking everything.
I left jobs