Introverts at Work
During the past several weeks, I’ve discussed networking skills via skill-building workshops offered at several law schools and law firms. It’s among my favorite topics and one that I know to be absolutely critical to every new professional’s long-term success. The people who really succeed as lawyers—or in any other profession, for that matter—are the ones who invest time building networks. Successful professionals start building them early and continue to nurture and grow them throughout their careers.
When I provide strategies and techniques for working an event, I’m careful to point out some tactics that I’ve found particularly useful for the more introverted members of my audience. When doing so, I generally begin by noting that I am an extreme introvert, something that few members of my audience initially believe. Almost uniformly members of my audiences will ask, “How can you consider yourself an introvert when you’re standing in front of 100 people speaking?”
Trust me, I am an introvert, and if you work among the best and the brightest, you probably are employed with a lot of other introverts, too.
Introvert, Extrovert or Ambivert
People often mistakenly believe that someone who is introverted must be extremely shy or socially awkward. That’s simply not the case. Introverts experience few problems when interacting with others, though we tend to rely on a close circle of friends and prefer intimate one-on-one conversations. What distinguishes the introvert from the extrovert is where each of us finds our energy. Introverts recharge our batteries via solitude, while extroverts acquire energy by engaging with others.
Research indicates that about 25 percent of the population can be classified as introverted. One site goes so far as to describe introverts as occupying “a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population.” At least one law firm consultant maintains that more than half of all lawyers are introverts, which may explain why the book “200 Best Jobs for Introverts,” ranks “lawyer” as No. 6.
In contrast to introverts, extroverts show lots of assertive behaviors. They tend to initiate conversations with others. In fact, if forced to be on their own, they may quickly feel bored and despondent. Extroverts recharge their batteries by interacting with others. After completing work on a long hard project, they’d like to see the entire team head out and let loose, something that introverts absolutely dread.
Somewhere between the extreme introvert and extrovert stands the ambivert. Think Goldilocks and her search for porridge that is neither too hot nor too cold; it’s just right. Ambiverts have the ability to stimulate excitement and interest and to intuit other’s reactions; they talk less and listen more; they don’t need to occupy the spotlight and feel comfortable allowing others to shine. Some authors argue that because ambiverts have a wider range of comfortable behavioral options from which to choose, they have an easier time finding the perfect balance between selling and serving.
If You Are an Introvert
Many introverts in professional settings fear they must change their ways and somehow transform themselves into extroverts. I encourage my program participants to forget that strategy. It’s not going to happen. You are who you are, and you need to honor and respect that.
However, introverts should consider nudging themselves toward ambivert behavior. Some specific strategies to consider include:
Speak up. As someone who also facilitates a number of business etiquette programs, I’m hesitant to suggest that anyone develop the habit of interrupting others. After all, we demonstrate our respect for others when we allow others to speak their mind without interference. However, sometimes interrupting a speaker who has monopolized an important business conversation may be perfectly appropriate. Furthermore, it may be the only way to ensure your ideas are heard.
Respond to an interrupter. If an extrovert consistently interrupts you, be prepared to reclaim the floor. Don’t let an important issue that you were about to raise go unheard. Instead say, “Hold on a second, let me finish this thought.”
Show up. Even though social interactions can drain you of energy quickly, it’s critical that people at work see and know who you are. You don’t need to be the funniest or loudest person in any given room, but others should view you as someone who always has something intelligent to say.
Become an insider. In any profession, some of the most important people are not necessarily the ones who generate headlines. Instead, the people who really make a difference are the ones who quietly work backroom deals. Become the proverbial man or woman behind the scenes—the low profile individual who can put deals together and bridge discordant viewpoints.
Ask someone to sponsor you. When working with new professionals, I urge them to find a sponsor, someone within an organization who will assign them challenging projects that will allow the junior professional to shine. Make no mistake here: when it comes to those assignments, the junior darn well better perform superlatively. When he or she does, sponsors will frequently advocate on their protégé’s behalf.
If you happen to be an introvert, you’re in good company. Some have speculated that Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Ghandi, Albert Einstein, and J.K. Rowlings all were or are introverts, too. Accept that you possess this orientation and honor you needs for solitude while committing to work with people who see the world in a different way.
What You Need To Know
A large percentage of successful professionals are introverts, people who recharge their batteries in solitude. The smartest introverts honor their orientation whIle employing strategies that position them for success.
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