The workplace is set up to reward extroverts. For example, ENTJs make up only 3% of the population but they comprise a wide majority of the world’s CEOs. The bias against introverts in American society is well documented, including research that shows that a spot on the cheerleading team foreshadows career success much more reliably than a spot on the honor roll. Also, workplace catch phrases that annoy everyone are especially annoying if you're not an extrovert: Toot your own horn! Your career is only as strong as your network! Let's do lunch!
The absurdity of the workplace being set up for extroverts is that 57% percent of the world are introverts, according to Laurie Helgoe, a psychologist and the author of the book Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength.
A lot of people tell me that my posts about how to approach social situations if you have Asperger Syndrome are helpful to people who are introverts. That might be true, in that both types of people need to limit their exposure to social situations. But the difference is that people with Asperger's are disabled socially. People who are introverts could be great in social situations.
So you can't judge yourself by whether or not you are socially competent. Rather, if you have the choice to be in a social situation or be alone, which would you choose more often? An introvert has more energy for doing life if he or she gets time alone, to recharge. An extrovert gets recharged from being around people. (Here's a test to take if you're not sure what you are.)
I am not an introvert. (I'm an ENTJ.) But I have sensory integration dysfunction, which gives me a similar feeling to introverts when they are overwhelmed with outside input. So unlike most ENTJs, I have a soft spot for introverts. And I am realizing that introversion is an important thing to have in a workplace — the trick is having introverts that understand why they're so valuable.
Here are five ways to leverage the advantages of introversion:
1. Work in the world of ideas.
Introverts generally love to talk about ideas, according to Helgoe. She says that in conversation, introverts are stronger if you talk about “what are you thinking?” instead of “what are you doing?” And at work, you are stronger if you are helping people with ideas rather than sticking to a routine pattern of work.
2. Give ten minutes and then go.
Make a connection, really contribute to the conversation, and then ten minutes is enough. Also, Helgoe says extroverts often have anxiety that they cannot get access to the introverts in their life — because they are always leaving to be alone. Introverts can alleviate this problem by being fully attentive for a short time and then leaving.
3. Have confidence in your self-knowledge.
Do you know the personality type that has the longest Wikipedia page? INTJ. Because the combination of being an introvert and being idea-driven makes one very interested in learning about oneself. INTJs are extreme cases, but all introverts have this combination to some extent, and the self-knowledge will help you to put yourself in situations where you'll have the most positive impact. For example, Helgoe has a great chapter on how to get out of going to a party — a key skill for an introvert, who does better in very small groups. But the bottom line is that you have to say that you'd rather be alone, which, Helgoe points out, “requires a real grounding in who you are.”
4. Teach other people to interact with you.
A lot of the conflict Ryan Healy and I used to have is that I had no idea how to communicate with an introvert. The biggest difference is that I think out loud, so I never stop talking to think. Ryan thinks and then talks. But if I never shut up, he can't actually think long enough to have a response. He did a bunch of research about communication styles and he taught me this difference between us. It helped me a lot to make space so that we could have a productive conversation. (Here's a book that can help you teach people how to approach introversion, and here’s a summary of the book.)
5. Take control of your work.
One of the most popular professions for introverts is being a writer. What this means is that there is a lot of information written about what work is well-suited for an introvert. Here is a list of ways to make an office that will help introverts excel.
And, I'm going to end by telling you to check out the book I recommend more than any other book in the world: Do What You Are by Paul Tieger. This book does not provide a single list of jobs suitable to introverts because there are so many different types of introverts. But this book can tell you what sort of introvert you are (for example, an artist or an activist?) and what sort of work you will thrive in.
As for you extroverts, stop assuming everyone is like you, and start tailoring conversation to introverts when it’s appropriate. Once I understood the different types of personalities, I started doing much better at work.