Chances are good that at some point in your life, you’ve been required to take a personality test. Perhaps it was the well-known and formal Meyers-Briggs test, or maybe it was just a Cosmo quiz forced upon you by a significant other. (Are YOU approachable?) The most commonly measured – and some believe most significant –personality trait is that of introversion versus extroversion.
What Warren Buffet and I have in common
In every personality test I’ve ever taken, I’ve ranked as an introvert, typically on the most extreme end of the scale. Academic and professional mentors have overwhelmingly pointed to my introversion as a personality trait that I would need to work to “overcome” in order to be successful. If you know me, you aren’t surprised at all that I’m an introvert; but you might be surprised to learn that Warren Buffet, Al Gore, Albert Einstein, Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) and Larry Page (co-founder of Google) are all introverts. (Source: Forbes.com, January 1, 2012) Did they “overcome” their introversion? Or have I been misled?
Mr. King and Ms. Cain, my new superheroes
About a year ago, I stumbled on a fantastic blog post (featured on Wired.com at the time) by a gentleman named Carl King. I know nothing about Mr. King, except that he, Warren Buffet and I are all similarly misunderstood. His blog post, 10 Myths about Introverts, made me think about all of the time I’ve spent worried that my unwillingness to change my personality was going to impede my long-term success. (Myth #10: Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.)
As I started to look into the topic of introversion and success, a friend recommended that I check out Susan Cain and her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s certainly not the first book on the topic to ever be published, but Ms. Cain delivered a powerful TED talk on the subject – and nothing makes you go viral like a well delivered TED talk.
Not only is Ms. Cain debunking popular introversion myths, she’s suggesting that as a society, we need to shift our thinking. It’s not a weakness to perform better with quiet, solitude and time to reflect; it’s just a different kind of strength.
I’m serving up wisdom, complete with a grain of salt
I mentioned that I’ve spent time worrying that my introversion might hold me back, but a.) that hasn’t yet been true for me, and b.) I am notoriously too stubborn to change my personality anyway. So I have to assume that some of the things I’ve learned about “how to be successful in an extrovert’s world”, as Ms. Cain might say, are effective.
1. Don’t be afraid to say, “Let me think about that and get back to you”.
I love to get together with clients and work to solve problems. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job. However, I almost always schedule meetings such that I can ask questions, listen and gather facts in the first call – and present recommendations or solutions in a follow-up. I’ve learned that I need some time to myself to process the information in order to come up with the best response.
2. Put it in writing. Then pick up the phone.
I think I’m far more articulate in writing than in oral conversation, a trait that I’ve learned is common in introverts. But for so many situations, email is just not effective for resolving things quickly. For complex issues, I will often send an email in advance of a meeting with my thoughts spelled out. Sometimes the email goes out just a couple of minutes before the meeting – not because I’m expecting the audience to read anything in advance, but because my thoughts are more organized in writing. Now I can start the call and refer to the notes. (My clients are very familiar with this, I’m sure.)
3. Don’t fear networking events.
Networking events are social gatherings with people that you do not know well, are expected to “impress” and have to interact with face to face. It doesn’t get much more intimidating and uncomfortable than that for an introvert. (I’d argue that a large wedding in a foreign country with mostly unfamiliar people who literally don’t speak the same language is a bit worse. But that’s a story for another blog post.) So is it weird that I’ve learned to enjoy them?
a. Learn to pick out the other introverts. You’ll recognize them. It’s like an instinct. They’re the ones off to the side with a panicked look in their eyes, possibly hiding behind a beverage that can’t possibly be THAT good.
b. Arm yourself with questions to start a conversation. Be a Boy Scout and be prepared. Come with questions that you can use to start a conversation – and rehearse them in front of a mirror before you leave. (The rehearsal is so that you weed out any conversation starters that end up sounding like pick-up lines. The mirror is because you’ll feel silly, and if you’re like me, that’ll help you to relax.)
c. Be self-deprecating and honest. Start a conversation with “Wow, I really don’t like this kind of event! Too much pressure.” You really need to rehearse this one. You don’t want to come across as whiny, lacking confidence, or creepy. (I have, unfortunately, managed all three at one time or another.) For most people, though, it’ll put them at ease – and they’ll want to put YOU at ease.
d. Leave when you’re ready. Whenever possible, dictate your own escape plan. Sometimes this means driving yourself to an event rather than carpooling or setting up an available excuse to leave a little earlier than most.
I’m grateful to Carl King, Susan Cain, and to the world of introverts out there for recognizing the strength in the need for quiet. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write up my notes for my next meeting and send those out before the call starts.