I have a confession: I’m an introvert.
This admission was never one I was proud to make and I used to let people assume I was just a shy or quiet person. But now, I work in a highly creative, collaborative and extroverted environment that puts my introversion center stage every single day.
I was in a brainstorm once with 15 other people, many of whom had strong and loud personalities, who pitched awesome ideas with such confidence and ease that I couldn’t keep up. My energy started to drop and I couldn’t focus on my own thoughts. As an introvert, I don’t shine in these situations, nor do I say things for the sake of saying things. I like to participate with purpose.
Too overwhelmed and self-conscious to say anything, I sat there and took notes while listening to everyone else. On my way out of that meeting, my lack of participation was made painfully obvious when someone turned around and said to me, “Oh hey, Sandra! You were in that meeting? Didn’t see you, didn’t even notice you were there.”
That comment stuck with me and I replayed it over and over in my head — it made me question my place in a creative industry. All I could think about was: “Is this the wrong career choice for my personality type? Do I belong here? Am I even creative enough to work here?”
I like preparing for meetings and I like having time and space to think on my own. I prefer a workplace that is quiet and calm, but every morning, I walk into a loud and busy office overflowing with outgoing people. For extroverts, it’s invigorating. For introverts, it’s exhausting.
When the going gets tough, the introvert gets thoughtful. I made it my personal quest to prove that introverts can succeed in an extrovert’s world. I interviewed and surveyed industry leaders, writers and designers — these are the introverts I like to call a perfectly calculated creative force.
Whether you identify as an introvert, manage an introvert or work for one, these tips will help introverts navigate through an extroverted world, to speak up and bring their own perfectly calculated creative force to the mix.
Be the moderator. In a brainstorm, introverts find it hard to speak up among the noise and need time to process. Contribute to the conversation by asking open-ended questions that generate discussion and guide the conversation. Take the pressure off yourself by being a connector of ideas. Be intentional on focusing on others, summarizing ideas and focusing on the commonalities between two opposing viewpoints.
Actively listen. Introverts don’t say things just for the sake of speaking, but you do have to show that you are actively engaged. Use non-verbal cues like eye contact, nodding, posture and mirroring others to show that you are following along and processing the information. If meetings are overwhelming and you need time to think, do it. Just make sure you follow up with an e-mail to share your valuable thoughts.
Allow yourself to pause. Introverts can be largely misunderstood, and see themselves as being quiet, calm and thoughtful. Extroverts usually describe them as passive and reserved. Brand yourself as someone who puts a lot of thought into something. Give yourself time to think when someone puts you on the spot – it will help separate emotion and impulse and you’ll be more confident and informed.
Build a trust circle. Find an extrovert you can connect with and make him/her your ally. Set up one-on-one conversations and form a strategic alliance of how you can help each other be successful. Express your work style and the rewards of working autonomously. Your extrovert allies will vouch for you once they understand you.
Be yourself and own it. Do not apologize for being an Introvert, but seek a mutual understanding of your ways of working with others. Let’s face it, we live in an increasingly extroverted world, but you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to have the most impactful voice.
Introverts unite! I’d love to hear from you. Share your story about your success as an introvert — or if you’ve used the tools and they’ve helped you — so we can learn from each other. Visit projectintrovert.com for details.
Sandra Younan is a social manager for FCB Chicago, a first-generation American, and a graduate of DePaul University, where she studied multicultural marketing. Younan first presented this content as a sold-out workshop for SXSW 2016.