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Hear them roar?

Introverts may need special strategies to be heard in the workplace

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Are you the type of person who's tired of being told to be more assertive, to get out and network more effectively or to speak up at meetings? Are you avoiding large social events and, if you do indeed attend, you're ready to go home in an hour? Or are you the candidate who simply doesn't interview well because it takes time to get to know you? How many of you have spent countless hours attempting to be extroverted, only to feel lonely and exhausted at the end of a day?

Believe it or not, this is what introverted people experience every day. Introverted individuals are more internally focused and don't need external stimulation from others. They are typically quiet and reserved, especially when in a crowd of unfamiliar people. They tend to be very thoughtful yet very private and they keep their emotions to themselves. Introverts are usually detail-oriented, good listeners and interested in learning and knowledge. Also, in general, introverted individuals have a small group of carefully chosen, long-term friends; for instance, their spouses are usually their best friends.

However, introverts are frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted, especially when they are being interviewed for a new job. In this case, the typical one-hour interview is simply not enough to allow an introverted person to make a good impression. They don't do well when required to engage in the usual small talk prior to the formal part of an interview. In addition, since most introverts are reserved and hold their emotions close to their chests, interviewers are challenged to effectively interpret their body language.

As well, with today's team-based work environments, organizations appear to be more geared toward an extrovert personality. Extroverts are typically good communicators and who are good at influencing others through meetings and presentations, high-profile charity leadership and other newsworthy public deeds. As well, you'll encounter these extroverts as team leaders as they so often get their energy from interaction with others.

An introvert, on the other hand, doesn't need to be the centre of attention and prefers to do his/her thinking through reflection and solitude. Introverted individuals tend to influence ideas through their in-depth expertise, their persuasive writing or through small face-to-face encounters. Unfortunately, not only are introverts challenged with initial interviews, they are also often left out of the political and/or social groups within the workplace. The result then is that many introverts are overlooked for promotion and underestimated by others.

In coaching an introverted candidate for an upcoming interview, I always advise the individuals to describe themselves as a "quietly assertive" person. This strategy allows the candidate to help the interviewer's focus on the skills for the job at hand rather than reacting to an introverted personality.

At the same time, introverted professionals need to adapt a number of strategies within the workplace in order to develop personal influence and foster consistent respect and appreciation. The following tactics should prove useful for any introverted personality.

1. Strive for emotional intelligence -- while introverts are excellent observers of other people, it's equally important for introverts to be personally self-reflective, clearly understand their own emotional state and to use this knowledge to attract and influence others. Being able to read other people's emotions allows you to understand people's needs and develop a subtle success strategy.

2. Apply a political influence strategy -- always take a critical look at the key players involved in any situation. Determine what their personal needs are and then design a win/win solution that would work best for all concerned. Follow your strengths and approach individuals personally, debrief them, give them time to think and invite them to support your recommendation and/or co-present the solution with you.

3. Reflect for creativity -- take time to reflect on your challenge by prioritizing quiet time and focusing on the issue and solutions you wish to present. Keep your presentation brief with a focus on the issues and challenges, the impact on your organization, potential solutions and a recommendation accompanied by a rationale.

4. Keep it simple -- whenever you are presenting ideas, pay special attention to your listeners as they not only have to hear, they need to understand. An effective strategy is to consolidate your details into a minimum of three key themes. This prevents listeners from being overwhelmed and allows them to stay focused on the issue. Avoid using technical terminology and speak in plain English.

5. Be prepared -- brainstorm what potential questions your listeners might ask. Write them down and prepare your answers so that you are eloquent and knowledgeable at all times. This tactic reinforces your personal self-confidence, your brand as an expert and serves to increase credibility and respect.

6. Don't shy away -- while you don't like crowds and aren't good at small talk, there will be times when you are thrown into a larger, important group. When entering the room, look for people you know and reach out to them. Ask these individuals to introduce you to others, one at a time. Prepare for small talk by standardizing a simple question: "What brings you out to this event?" Be sure to have your own answer to that question. Plan to leave the event right after a major speaker or announcement.

7. Be an effective meeting manager -- introverts hate meetings, but so do many others. Keep your agendas focused and short. Discuss strategic issues rather than tactical ones. If a topic results in considerable disagreement, table the issue and then speak to each person individually to hear out their ideas. Find common ground and solutions and re-introduce it at a future meeting.

8. Develop a strong collegial relationship -- introverts still need to have someone with whom to share their ideas and to gain an understanding of how those extroverted listeners will respond to your issues. Create a strong confidential relationship with a colleague, test out your ideas, acquire and appreciate their feedback.

9. Quietly develop others -- success in the workplace is all about developing strategic and supportive relationships. While introverts prefer to build relationships slowly and one person at a time, this still creates a strong support team. Manage by walking around, speak to people one to one, show interest and provide support when you can.

It's difficult being an introvert in an extrovert society but just as with the well-known proverb of the turtle and the hare, introverts who are strategic and apply the above-named strategies amongst others will be able to create significant career success and personal happiness in their work world.


Source: Quiet Influence: The Introvert's Guide to Making a Difference, Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Phd., Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013.


Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2013 H1

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