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.

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  1. Waterfall
    Waterfall says:

    The best decision I ever made was to become a technical writer. I tried being a freelance writer/editor, but turned out to be way too introverted to “toot my own horn.” Plus, I hated the attention whenever I did publish something. With technical writing, I get to hide in my cubicle and play with words and sentences. Also, most of the people I have to interact with (programmers) are also introverted, so none of us are eager to engage in small talk. Pretty much an ideal career for an introvert (INFP, specifically) who loves to write.

  2. Rhonda Tipton
    Rhonda Tipton says:

    I want to thank you. This is a great post that makes me really think about my personality. I am what you would consider “Highly Introverted”. I took the test you had linked to and only answered False to about 3 of the statements.

    I generally receive pretty high marks on my yearly reviews, but generally lose a point or two due to my “quiet” personality. I believe if I can take some of the advice in this post, I can turn things around a bit. So thanks again!

  3. S
    S says:

    This article could not be mre timely for me. I was let go of my job of 4 years last month. I didn’t like the job much and was plotting my escape very soon anyway. Since then, I have been spending time reflecting on myself and my goals, not wanting to just jump into another work situation that isn’t really suited for me. So I have been revisiting the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram tests. I am an INFP and a 4w5, resectively. I know that a lot of what I didn’t like about my last job is down to my type; there were days where I couldn’t stand sitting under those flourescent lights, listening to such loud-talking people, attending to the routine, mundane details that constituted my work.

    I was let go for being tardy, officially. But the company had been making paycuts and personnel cuts all over the place, and I never clicked with my boss, so I have my doubts about the real reason, especially considering that others were also tardy a lot, and I performed well otherwise, receiving a raise each year.

    This article helped me realize that one of the reasons I didn’t click with my boss is my introverted nature coming against her extroverted nature. She used to tell me that she wished I would come into her office and talk to her more. “Why?? What about??”, I would wonder. Other people would walk into her office, shut the door, plop down on a chair and just chat with her. Well, I had no interest in trying to become her friend, and I didn’t require a lot of hand-holding work-wise, so I didn’t find many occasions to inturrupt her day with conversation. She would always seek out someone to go out to lunch with her (usually sales folks) and I liked to eat at my desk and check emails, read or nap in my car at lunch.

    So now my challenge is to find a more introverted-friendly woek environment.

    Strangely, I used to work in a busy, loud restaurant, and although it was really taxing, I actually quite liked it.

    • Terri D
      Terri D says:

      S, you have described a recent experience of mine almost exactly. The difference is that after my ex-supervisor incorrectly associated my introversion with not liking people and asked me one too many times if “something was going on” with me or if I was “feeling sick,” I quit. I had tried to explain both to her and the HR department that when it gets busy, I am very nose-to-the-grindstone to get my work done, but after a while, it was like banging my head against a brick wall, so I left.

  4. Toby R
    Toby R says:

    I have never seen the difference between introverts and extroverts in the workplace discussed like this. I am certainly on the introverted side of things when at work – though interestingly as other commenters have mentioned, this isn’t so much the case outside the office. I think the point made about educating others how to communicate with you is important. I have worked in a number of places and certainly some are better at managing introverts and recognizing how to bring the most out of them in a way that doesn’t make them feel threatened.

  5. dorie
    dorie says:

    Thank you for this. I am an INTJ and I have tried to explain so many times at work that unlike my outgoing colleagues I need time to internalise things. Add that to the fact that I’m being treated for avoidant personality disorder and gender identity disorder and it becomes triply hard to volunteer information about myself.
    I wonder whether or not it would be hard for a person with Asperger’s to come out as gay or transgendered.
    Also, there’s an intersting piece in the December 6 NY Times magazine on whetehr or not Sherlock Holmes may have been modeled on someone with Asperger’s.

  6. Terri D
    Terri D says:

    This entry made me smile–I’m an INTJ and a writer. Your point about extroverts thinking aloud struck an arrow right to my analytical old heart, too. I am notorious for despising meetings, particularly staff meetings in which there is an agenda of items to cover that have absolutely nothing to do with my own work, and that’s why. Meetings like that fail to meet the famous INTJ criteria of “does it work or is it useful?” while simultaneously exhausting me with sensory overload. After about 10 minutes of listening to status updates on other people’s projects, my brain starts morphing the speakers’ voices into that of Charlie Brown’s teacher, Ms. Othmar: “Mwah mwah MWAH mwah mwah.” I forget who said this, but I live by it: If you can’t explain something in 10 minutes, go away and write me a memo about it. Anything else is as Rauch describes it in the Atlantic piece: content-free speech.

  7. Derek Scruggs
    Derek Scruggs says:

    INTJ here. One thing we are very good at is making adaptations using cognitive behavioral therapy. In the last nine months or so I’ve become adept at pretending to be an extrovert and my life is better as a result. I’m still not the guy who hugs everyone he meets, but I’m much better at starting conversations and even hooking up on the dance floor. :)

    • CeCe
      CeCe says:

      I found out that I’m an introvert last year. I always knew that I was a little different from my friends. I love alone time. My problem is with my job. I’m in Marketing which requires you to be outgoing at times, but the part I love the most is analyzing and being creative. I love to think. The outgoing is the part that exhausts me because I have to put on a fake personality during meetings and lunches with clients and the sales team.

      Last year I got a new boss and she wants me to be more outgoing, shine during our status meetings, and think more outside of the box. She even criticized me for leaving a Christmas Party early. I wish extroverted people took the time to understand us more. I do very good at my job, but just because I’m not an extrovert doesn’t mean that I’m slacking.

  8. Simon
    Simon says:

    I agree that most businesses favor the extroverts but there are many other professions where an introvert can excel like research, sciences, etc.

    Simon
    bestbusinessangels.com

  9. Simon
    Simon says:

    I agree that most businesses favor the extroverts but there are many other professions where an introvert can excel like research, sciences, etc.

    Simon
    bestbusinessangels.com

  10. Dallas Moore
    Dallas Moore says:

    Penelope,

    I have just stumbled upon your blog, and I am absolutely in love with it. Not only this article, but every article I have happened upon so far, has made me think. You should see the look of sheer awe on my face right now.

    I will definitely be following and sharing your work. You are a great writer and thinker, and someone I will truly enjoy hearing more of.

    Now, as far as this article goes, I myself am an introvert. I feel that the think-then-speak attitude that you mention, and that I do carry, helps me. Then again, it may hurt me as well.

    While I think to myself, and I carry great ideas(or what I think to be great ideas) around with me, until I let someone know what’s on my mind, they just think I’m the average Joe. Surely being open and forthright with your thoughts has a better chance of making you known and popular?

    But when I do let on that I might have an opinion about something, I think it strikes other people more genuinely. They see some mystery there and wonder what other knowledge lies inside the introvert.

    It really depends on whether or not a person uses it to their advantage. Whether they ‘leverage’ it or not.

  11. Umkhonto Labour
    Umkhonto Labour says:

    The reason why there are so few extroverts in total, yet so many in leadership positions answers the question right there. Leadership is best suited to a certain personality type, and the extrovert is usually going to be the one standing up and taking charge of the situation, hence the skewed percentages.

  12. J. Nelson Leith
    J. Nelson Leith says:

    Dallas,

    “Leadership is best suite to a certain personality type” would be true if leadership had no consequences. Unfortunately, it matters not only THAT someone leads, but WHERE they lead.

    The “one standing up and taking charge” is not always the one who knows what he’s doing. Leadership today is more than being able to slam your foot on the gas; you also have to know how to steer and read a map.

    For example, UC-Berkeley researcher Cameron Anderson and Gavin Kilduff discovered that loud, aggressive people were ranked higher as leaders by team mates when tasked to solve math problems as a group, but were not the participants who provided the most correct answers.

    Why would we make such terrible mistakes when choosing leaders? Because our brains did not evolve solving math problems. They evolved killing mammoths, fighting tribal wars, and picking fruit.

    What we have is a systemic problem (meaning it’s not the responsibility of individual introverts to address) derived from having social instincts geared for the small-scale, technologically primitive environment of the Stone Age, even though we are now in a global society, often working in organizations with thousands of people (well above the Dunbar Number), using Information Age technology.

    The leaders our Stone Age brains want are not the leaders our Information Age civilization needs. It’s not enough to learn how our instincts want us to pick leaders. We need to learn how to pick leaders better suited to today’s environment, often in spite of our instincts.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    It depends.. Just being an introvertit person doesn’ t always mean you have confidence in your self-knowledge or that you can teach other people to interact with you.I see a lot of shy people that not only they cannot express themselves dirrectly but they also lack of self-esteem and they don’ t believe in themselves. And for them.. how can they teach other people to interact with them? RCA ieftin

  14. Annie
    Annie says:

    In the workplace, extroverts can often get credit for doing almost nothing, except smiling and talking all day long. I did not want to bash extroverts, but the reality is that many social schmoozers have little inner substance. When push comes to shove, they disappear on their friends and co-workers. Introverts are far more loyal. Employers should recognize this.

  15. Nanuq Aimée
    Nanuq Aimée says:

    Dear Penelope

    Thanks for this! As an introvert I find it useful. Yet, as an INFP, I do not think introversion is really the issue for me at work. I can face extroversion quite well indeed! As a sensitive person, I sometimes find it difficult to cope on what I call the ‘corporate battleground’. I am trying to find answers with my blog, Nanuq Aimée and I would love it if you could post something specific on this issue. You always say INFPs would be perfect at home with children but what about those out there? Thanks!

    Nanuq Aimée

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