How To Be An Introvert In An Extroverted World

Introverts have gotten a bad name over the years. It’s a simple case of poor PR. Every serial killer has a neighbor who describes him as the “nice guy who kept to himself.” Can you imagine how hard it would be for Betty White’s publicist if every serial killer were described as the “ditsy one from the Golden Girls?”

These days, outspoken self-promoters are idealized. Extroverted and introverted personality types are each valuable, yet somehow the term introverted has become synonymous with weak and insecure. I’m no publicist, but I would like to galvanize my socially-challenged peers (using my inside voice) to re-establish the value of solitude and quietly taking it all in.

First, let’s consider this TED Talk from my new hero, Susan Cain. She argues that introversion is not a character flaw at all. She says it is detrimental to our society not to nurture the growth of introverts, considering how influential they’ve proven to be throughout history. Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Warren Buffett – all introverts who grew to be leaders. In her talk, Cain laments that our culture is quickly moving to accommodate and reward extroverts while squashing the needs of introverts. This is bad. Schools and offices now favor open floor plans designed to be “interactive” and emphasize the dreaded “teamwork.” This is a nightmare for introverts. I mean, we can handle it, but it’s just not ideal for our God-given skill set. The introverted thought process tends to offer depth that can’t be matched, but it requires solitude and quiet spaces. Like Yoda, we are. We are incapable of bouncing around half-baked ideas and instead need time in the kitchen.

Bold extroverts have a lot to offer, yes, but their peanut butter needs our jelly.

So here’s what I’m thinking: Introverts need to stop beating themselves up. They’ll always fail to be extroverts. All we can do is be the very best introverts we can be. The squeaky wheel gets the grease but maybe we can be that bum, sideways wheel. Those wheels get grease, too. Below are my ideas for how an introvert can excel in this pushy, modern world.

Give yourself more time. I know it’s tempting to get an assignment and promise to turn it around with lightening speed, but here’s the thing: you probably aren’t capable of that. Speed is not generally in your wheelhouse. You know what is in your wheelhouse? Tangents and attention to detail are in your wheelhouse. You’ll go off on tangents and think of unrelated but brilliant ideas while you’re on this task — these will come in handy on the next project. And because your brain works overtime, your attention to detail will always wow the boss. So don’t try to show off with speed. Pad your deadlines (reasonably) whenever you can. Don’t rush. You’ll be doing everyone a favor.

Don’t put a candy jar anywhere near your desk. I know you think you want to make new friends, but your brain can’t handle those conversational distractions! Consider paying for friends, instead.

Come up with loose ideas before the brainstorm meeting. Extroverts love brainstorm meetings. Introverts find them chaotic and hard to participate in. But this is an extrovert’s world, baby, so we gotta play ball. Ask your boss for a cheat sheet before the meeting. Do whatever you can to find out what this group brainstorm is about so you can come up with loose ideas in solitude before you hit the room full of people. This way, you can utilize the lightening-fast, brain-to-mouth skills of your extrovert coworkers to help pump up your existing idea to a new level. Oh hey, Teamwork! I didn’t see you there!

Designate time for feedback. You can’t handle real-time feedback, so carve out extra time for it. When you’re on a group project, politely ask to tackle part of the task on your own and then designate milestones at which you’ll stop and ask for input. We introverts aren’t so full of ourselves that we can’t take notes (wink!).

Get used to saying, “Let me think about it.” Stop feeling pressure to give an answer right away, no matter how quickly people around you seem to be moving. Whether at work or in life — take your time. Don’t let people push you and don’t throw in the towel with an “I don’t know.” Not having an immediate answer doesn’t have to indicate a lack of confidence. If you say “let me think about it” firmly enough, that’s a whole new level of confidence. That’s the amp turned up to 11. Don’t say it when you’re just plain procrastinating, though. Haven’t you ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? If you are procrastinating, just say, “Oh, um… about that…”

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