When I picked up a copy of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I’d finally found the user’s manual for my life. Finally, in one neatly bound place, I discovered explanations for why I dread social mixers. Why I can’t work with music playing. Why my most creative times are those spent in a blanket of silence.
For 40 years, I’d battled behaving as everyone told me I should behave: be more social/collaborative/bubbly. While I could certainly be all of those things, they exhausted me, and I needed to retreat to solitude to get myself back together.
After 40 years of thinking I was an extrovert, it turns out that I’m an introvert. And it’s simply wonderful to know that.
Maybe this sounds familiar. While being shy is different from being an introvert, many of us come face-to-face with the demands of extroversion that society places square in our faces. As introverts, it’s common that we’re pushed aside, or worse, we’re labeled as not as valuable as the bigger personalities in the room.
There’s a lie that introversion is less desirable than extroversion. Businesspeople and work cultures can help embrace the introvert, as we’re ever-so essential to your business and livelihood, by recognizing these three things.
We’re Talented Listeners
The introverts in your workplace and life—man, can we listen up a storm! While extroverts might be hopping from conversation to conversation, we’re much more interested in digging into single concepts and details. We’ll hear you out (as you go on and on and on) and are incredibly adept at summing up a whole pile of thoughts and feelings into concise summaries.
What does this mean for you?
Introverts make powerful project team members, the ideal balance to the glad-handing client pleaser, because we work below the surface while the extroverts work at the surface.
We also make damn fine consultants, psychological professionals and strategists, because we’re keen on absorbing as many details as possible before charting a well-planned course.
Finally, our talent for listening generally means our feedback—when offered—will be less fluff and more function. We’re a powerful complement to any work culture, as we speak when we have something to say that will have an impact. You should be excited when we speak up in (or after) a meeting because we have something that we must say. And it will likely add to, or materially shift, the conversation at hand.
We’re Meticulous and Focused
Our talent for listening lends to another skill: calculated focus. When you see that developer in a dark cubicle or the copywriter working by a daylight lamp in the far corner of your company’s shared workspace—we’re working. We’ve gone down a rabbit hole of productivity and what’s coming out the other side is gonna be good. The introverts in your life and office can latch onto something and not let go until it’s been wrestled, conquered and put on display as a proud thought trophy hanging on the wall.
Businesses: Take care of the introverts in your workplace, because their need for quiet and solitary working environments means excellence is baking at 400 degrees. Nurture these innovation-seeking, silent-working souls with:
- Quiet rooms: Create workspaces with dimmable lights and non-interconnected workstations. Let folks come and go from the room as they please when they need to recharge. You may also find that some team members prefer this environment to their desk. Move them in and let them thrive.
- Modular/mobile workspaces: Offer workstations that are moveable. You might even find non-introverts moving their workstations to get a different view and spark inspiration. A mobile/modular workspace can also allow introverts to pick up and relocate to a quieter part of the office should your extroverted collaborators get a bit boisterous from time to time.
Introverts' focus and attention to detail is an invaluable asset—offering an environment where we can dig in comfortably will benefit introvert, extrovert and the entire company. We all work for the same cause.
We Value Deep Relationships
Susan Cain’s Introvert Manifesto offers this point: “Rule of thumb for networking events: One genuine new relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.” While introverts might not be friends with everyone in the office, we are prone to developing deep friendships with a meaningful few. We’re not people collectors and we don’t travel in posses (yee-ha!); we fall in love with a select few and nurture those relationships for the long haul.
Sounds kind of like a brilliant salesperson or business development team member, doesn’t it?
Introverts on client teams can become your customer’s confidant, trusted with information your extroverted team lead might not get. It’s not that extroverts aren’t trustworthy or fantastic people. Rather, that introvert—the voice on the end of the support call or the ever-reliable troubleshooter that your clients call to get day-to-day tasks done—knows about building deep relationships. While extroverts might run the overall social and biz dev sides of a client relationship, we introverts are there to make sure it’s a long-term relationship.
With listening and meticulous attention to detail, we’re a pleasant surprise when it comes to building amazing client relationships and executing the technical nitty gritty that keeps a client happy.
If you thought introverts had no place on your client teams and might be better relegated to non-customer facing roles, think again. Just because we’re less gregarious doesn’t mean we don’t care (and deeply) for a client’s success.
Perhaps this simple list of three introvert strengths can help you rethink the value of introverts in your workplace. We’re not anti-social—we’re just social on a different set of terms, and on account of those terms, we're a highly desirable asset for teams in every industry. And here’s a secret: We adore extroverts. They accomplish amazing feats of social connection and mixing that we aren’t built for, which makes them an ideal complement to our quieter ways.
And that makes introverts and extroverts a perfect team, meeting in the middle to cultivate and nurture lasting relationships that make team members, clients and employers phenomenally happy for years to come.
Read more articles on company culture.
Photo: Getty Images