4 Advantages to Being an Introvert in an Extroverted Industry
“Introverts treasure the close relationships they have stretched so much to make.” Adam S. McHugh
Most days are normal. Most days, I might do some online work, facilitate a 2-day leadership workshop, coach a senior executive, or deliver a 45-minute keynote to a group of business leaders. Most days, these tasks are executed to plan; with positive feedback provided, and new relationships formed. Most days, my audience views me as an outgoing individual, confident in his ability and knowledge of his subject matter. Most days, all the above is true. Not all days are most days.
Some days, I fear speaking in public despite my inner confidence and subject matter knowledge. Some days, the last thing I want to do is go to a networking event and make small talk with people I’ve never met before, and might never meet again. Some days, I just want to stay in and focus on creating great content, and working on the next workshop. Some days, I don’t want to feel as if I have to be the life and soul of the party. Fortunately, not all days are some days.
I’ve taught myself some techniques over the past few years that give me more confidence when meeting people for the first time, that allow me to attend networking events and get something out of them. I no longer need to stand in the corner, and now actively seek out new people to connect with. If I’m with a group of friends, I’m still usually the noisy one who won’t stop talking, but most people don’t realise I’m just making up for all the times that I keep quiet around those I’m unfamiliar with.
This past month, I’ve been on an executive coaching course in Florida where my initial fear was being in a room of loud, confident and hyper-energetic coaches who make a career of speaking with people they previously had no connection with. Suddenly I was reminded of the fact that, in these situations, I am an introvert.
As the course progressed, I realized that the group was a mixed bag. All very seasoned and successful professionals, yet the majority were displaying introverted personality traits. This brought up the age-old question; can introverts make successful leaders? Or, in my case, can introverts make successful coaches and trainers?
There have been some great books and studies done on the topic, so I won’t rehash them. Here’s my slightly biased thoughts on the matter.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying that extroverts don’t display the below behavioural traits, more that introverts tend to leverage them more to their advantage.
- Introverts absorb information and are great listeners. They rarely take over a group conversation, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. They are more likely to be absorbing the key points of the conversation and then will interject with a meaningful contribution. As coaches, they listen intently to what the coachee is saying. As trainers, they focus on the feedback and contributions of the attendees, and then respond or critique with thought and purpose. With introverts, less is more. As Susan Cain wrote in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking: “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
- Introverts build strong, long-lasting relationships. Their social circle will never be that large. Their Facebook friends list would make most Millennials squirm. But they know most of the people on their list and they mean something to them. I meet a lot of people, but it takes time before I open up and trust them. However, once someone becomes a good friend and is part of my ‘inner-circle’, I’m fiercely loyal to them and will fly half-way around the world at the drop of the hat if they need me. As coaches and trainers, we focus on building and maintaining the client relationship. We’d rather have 10-15 strong, long-term client partnerships than 30 one-off engagements.
- Introverts are time-focused and efficient. They don’t get distracted as easily as extroverts, nor volunteer to get involved in as many things. If not tracked, this can become a negative trait, however introverts would rather ensure a task is done to a high standard, and on time, than try to work on multiple projects at the same time. An introverted trainer is more likely to plan the agenda step-by-step, and ensure it runs to schedule. However, they need to remain open to exploring new avenues as they appear, and going with their gut: something extroverts excel at.
- Introverts prefer working in small groups or one-on-one. Large groups require a bold and confident approach to control the masses. Introverts can thrive in a more private setting, where they can work closer with individuals. This works very well for coaches and also for trainers working with smaller workshops of under 30 people. If asked to facilitate a larger session (50+), it can help to have co-facilitators with you; not only to help run the exercises, but also to inject a different personality into the equation. This is the method I work with, and it works very well for me.
I’m still working on some of the newly found skills I referred to above, so you might see me standing to one side at an event, eating by myself, or ending the conversation sooner than you hope. It doesn't, however, alter my effectiveness in the work I do. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting people and forging new friendships, but I won't always make the first move. It’s not you, it’s me. After all, not all days are most days.