Tip #1 for Introverts

Christopher Witt —  January 4, 2013

Many — more than half — of my clients are engineers of one stripe or another. Which is to say, they are by and large introverts. Even though I’m an extrovert (or maybe because I am an extrovert), I enjoy working with introverts.

Over the years I’ve developed a number of tips I share with my clients to help them understand how to operate and to communicate more effectively in a world of extroverts.

Tip #1 For Introverts: Know that you’re different from extroverts in fundamental ways.

You and extroverts play by different rules. You often misunderstand each other. If you’re going to work together well, you need to recognize your differences and learn how to capitalize on them.

Being an introvert (or an extrovert, for that matter) is neither good nor bad. It’s just different. If you’re an introvert, you’ve probably always been an introvert and nothing you do will change your basic nature. You are what you are. Get used to it. (Ditto for extroverts.)

What Is an Introvert?

Introverts tend to think before they speak.

When you ask an introvert his opinion, he’ll usually sit (or stand) there and say nothing. He’ll look, for the most part, as if he didn’t hear your question or is ignoring you. But wait long enough, and he may get around to saying what he thinks. When he does so, he’ll voice a well-considered opinion that he’ll stick to pretty firmly, since he’s thought it through so thoroughly.

Introverts are more attuned to their inner lives (their feelings, thoughts, fantasies) than to external stimuli.

They entertain themselves and don’t mind — the often enjoy — being alone. They like socializing with small groups of people they already know. They dislike networking, and they’re overwhelmed by large social gatherings.

Introverts recharge their batteries by withdrawing from others and from activity.

What Is an Extrovert?

Extroverts tend to think out loud.

Ask an extrovert her opinion, and she’ll being speaking. (She may not even wait for you to ask.) She says what she is thinking at the moment, not necessarily her final thought. If she says something completely different in a later conversation, it’s not necessarily because her convictions have changed: it’s just that her thinking has evolved.

Extroverts pay more attention to external stimuli (to people, activities, sights, and sounds) than to their inner life.

They enjoy meeting strangers, interacting and socializing with people – the more, the merrier. They get a charge out of being where the action is.

So my first tip for introverts is simple: Know that you’re different. Not better or worse, just different.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

3 responses to Tip #1 for Introverts

  1. Thanks, Chris! Great post. As a confirmed introvert, I acknowledge your wisdom. Here are my adaptive strategies for living in a business world dominated by extroverts:
    1) Every boss I’ve had has been an aggressive, entrepreneurial extrovert. They all need a thoughtful, articulate person to ‘do the work’ they envision. They do NOT want competition. I’ve created a niche for myself by learning how to support the company leader. (NOTE — If you follow this path, be prepared for your best work to become the “Leader’s Ideas.”
    2) In meetings and brainstorming sessions, PRETEND TO BE AN EXTROVERT. That is, “act” — create a role, inhabit the role, and go for it. Have fun pretending to be one of “them.” “Surf” the extrovert energy in the room and join in. (NOTE — what makes you an introvert is, after the meeting you will be exhausted. Sked some ‘alone’ time to recover. Extroverts will be energized by the meeting.)
    3) Extroverts need Introverts. Introverts can ‘go deep’ into a subject because of their thoughtful nature. ‘Going deep’ is a valuable talent. Embrace your value.
    4) Most importantly, for me — don’t get ‘swallowed by the world.’ I have to be very careful to give myself quality ‘alone time’ away from the yakkety-yak of the media mulch. Every year the world becomes noisier, more distracting and more ‘full of screens’ demanding your attention. Take the time you need to quiet your mind so you can ‘think what you think.’

    • Thanks, Rich, for your insights. You’ve given me enough material to blog on for a month to come.

      You allude to one connection that got me thinking, when you write about bosses who are both aggressive and extroverted.

      I think that aggression and extroversion are two separate behavioral patterns. They often overlap, especially the more power or authority a person has. But they aren’t necessarily connected. You can be, for example, a passive or a cooperative extrovert. Or you can be an aggressive introvert. (I think, although I don’t have any data to back this thought, that aggressive people tend more often than not to be extroverts.)

      There are two other behavioral patterns that often get linked, but that are separate: introversion and shyness. I know extroverts who are quite shy, and introverts who aren’t. My father, for example, was a college dean of students. He was an off-the-scale introvert, but his role required him to interact with people all the time. He was quite adept at playing the extrovert (per your comment about acting a role). And he enjoyed doing so…as long as he could unwind at home. He wasn’t in the least shy.

      I’ll give more thought to both common linkages — aggression with extroversion and shyness with introversion — in future blogs. Feel free to add you own thoughts.

      • Chris — Very interesting distinction — are extroversion and aggression the same, or even similar, and do powerful leaders necessarily have both qualities? Here’s an insight from my personal experience.

        In the late 90’s I worked for a guy who was both extroverted and very aggressive. He sold and made cable TV shows, and those qualities helped him in breaking through in that very competitive world. He was wildly successful for a few years — and then his business fell apart, because his aggressive attitude precluded developing the talents of the (new, young, cheap, talented) people grinding out the shows. There was one and only one genius in the office, and that was the boss. People left, tastes changed and this guy is almost out of business — and he can’t figure out why.

        My current boss is an extrovert who has trained himself to notch back his aggressive tendencies in order to keep and develop a “deep bench” of talented people to help him run his business. He’s discovered a secret of business success — that he’s hired talented people who know more about the current ‘world of the business’ (especially as regards technology) than he does. This is an extraordinary quality, a kind of wisdom all my other “extroverted, aggressive” bosses lacked. The irony is rich — this is the one guy who is still thriving because he has learned to moderate the very quality that helped him break through.