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Finding Your 'Quiet Strength' as an Introvert

August 28, 2009 1:34 PM

Four out of five introverted professionals say extroverts are more likely to get ahead where they work, says Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of the new book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength. What's more, over 40 percent say they would like to change their introverted tendencies, but don't know where or how to begin. Women For Hire asked Jennifer Five Questions.

1) What is it about extroverts that makes them so successful?

Extroverts draw their energy from the “outside in”—being invigorated by the people and events around them. At work, they are natural schmoozers, and their ease in building relationships opens the door to promotions and plum assignments. They’re also the “talkers” in meetings and conversations—giving their ideas and accomplishments more air time and attention. In essence, extroverts are the ones who get heard and noticed—a clear advantage in our noisy business world.

2) You write that President Obama is a "classic introvert." Why and what can introverts learn from him?

President Obama exemplifies many characteristic behaviors of introversion. He exudes a cool, calm demeanor—a real plus in today’s turbulent times—and regardless of the heat of the conversation or circumstances, he remains low-key and speaks softly, slowly, and succinctly. He also likes to dig deep on issues and events, process ideas and information internally, and “think first, talk later.” The aha? It’s not only “out there” extroverts who can rise up and lead— introverts have the right stuff as well.

3) Why do introverts often get overlooked in the workplace?

According to my research—a two-and-a-half-year national study— introverts are routinely ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood at work. Moreover, introverted women may have further difficulty in claiming their place at the table. The good news? When introverts confront their key challenges, they can learn to manage them. The top three:

-- Project overload. Introverts tend to have difficulty saying no and find it equally hard to ask for help or direction. As a result, they frequently feel overloaded with projects and deadlines—hurting their on-the-job performance.

-- Underselling. Introverts typically stay mum about their accomplishments—seeming to abide by the old Southern adage, “Don’t brag on yourself.” Yet today careers are made or broken by what others know about a person’s skills and potential. Introverts, therefore, regularly miss out simply because they don’t sell themselves.

-- Failure to “play the game.” Introverts inherently retreat from office politics. Sure, politics can be nasty, but much of the game is natural and necessary, particularly for building relationships up and down an organization. Introverts, with their desire to be low-key, often fail to sniff out important politicking opportunities and wind up watching their extroverted colleagues get ahead.

4) I'm smart. I'm funny. I do my work well. But I'm also introverted. Are there ways I can leverage my introversion?

Entertainer Victor Borge said, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people.” As an introvert, you can overcome perceptions of being standoffish or too serious by smiling, laughing, and letting your humor come out. Also, ask great questions (being an introvert, you already know how to listen and learn from the answers), use your depth to help engage and connect with people, and show your smarts by contributing earlier in meetings and conference calls.

5) How can social networks like LinkedIn help an introvert like me?

Social networking Web sites let your fingers do the talking—allowing you to communicate with people how you want to, when you want to. You can prepare for first-time meetings, send helpful “news you can use” items, and warm up cold leads—all in a low-key, yet friendly way.

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