The month’s Field Notes contributor, Evelyn Marinoff is a mother of a lovely 6-month old baby boy, a social introvert, an MBA, a blogger, a passionate reader, and a writer in the making. You can find Evelyn at mind-chatters.com and @Evelyn_Marinoff.
While it appears that our extrovert world may finally be slowly shifting toward giving some credit to introverts, let’s face it: many corporations are still a long way from reaching equality between introverts and extroverts. Introverts may be respected for the work they do and usually get a pat on the shoulder, but extroverts are still the ones who command the spotlight and reap much of the recognition. Because of our very nature, we introverts are still widely believed to lack an important part of what constitutes a “modern-day personality”—the gene for career success.
Being an introvert myself, I’ve often been ignored, overlooked, and dubbed “not a team player.” It does hurt. Especially when you are surrounded by over-confident extroverts who have little to no understanding of what makes us different and that being different is not necessarily a bad thing.
Over the years, I have fought my own battle—to measure up, to stand up, and to be heard. I believe there are steps and strategies we can all explore to aim at a successful career and command the respect we deserve. What follows is my own wisdom, which I have collected throughout my professional life as a financial consultant.
We all have an opportunity to make it better for ourselves by simply playing extroverts at their own game. Here are some tips on how to get started:
There is an overwhelming amount of research, studies, and books on the science of smiling (including Charles Darwin’s own The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals). While it’s still unclear why people smile, this simple act is believed to bring great positive effects on our minds and bodies when practiced regularly. According to some scientists, it can even give us a short-term “high.” More importantly, however, in a corporate environment, smiling is one of the brand manifestations of extroversion. Smiling can help us introverts to appear more approachable, social, and upbeat. And who wouldn’t benefit from a better mood? It’s pretty easy too—it’s just a matter of practice.
It’s no secret that straight posture, eye contact, and a head held high are all signs of confidence. It is also a way to make a great impression and to get noticed—the thing that introverts usually try to avoid at all costs. Research supports the idea that non-verbal communication, in the form of posture and gestures, constitutes the largest part of how others see us. More importantly, though, it is related to self-respect and self-assurance. While we don’t necessarily need to show off, we can still demand appreciation from others and assert that we are good at what we do and that we do mean business. Remember that slouching won’t make us invisible—it will only make us look insecure and give us a hefty medical bill from the subsequent back problems.
Experts tell us that to make a long-lasting impression, we should avoid speaking too fast, articulate our words, and pay special attention to our tone of voice. The fear of public speaking and being the center of attention are well-known terrifying situations for most introverts. Undeniably, though, the art of expressing ourselves is a priceless skill. Words constitute a very small—but still significant—part of our communication with the world. The ability to choose the right phrases, as well as the lack of it, communicates to others the story of our personality, of our brand, and of the degree to which we are willing and motivated to succeed. An introvert can master the skill of a great conversation by joining a professional organization such as Toastmasters. Try to view any chance to speak in front of an audience as a challenge instead of a dread, and explore the speaking opportunity as preparation for the times when you will really need this skill in order to shine.
Just because we are introverts doesn’t mean we are to be glued to our work desks and avoid speaking to others. While we may find it undesirable to “waste time” with small talk, there is no better way to benefit our careers than by engaging in office networking for few minutes a day. At the very least, others will notice that we exist, and we may even make a few true friends along the way. If you don’t know what to say, ask others about themselves—this strategy is always a winner.
It simply means one thing: learn flexibility. Yes, such advice may feel like going straight against our very nature, and it contradicts everything we stand for, but a little social chameleon-ism can, in fact, bring great benefits. In order to do this, we don’t need to change who we are or betray our principles. It merely involves showing different parts of our personality to different people so that we can better relate to them. Simply put, converse with others about things you know they are interested in. And that is really what adaptability in action is.
Being an introvert in an extrovert-dominated world is still, by no means, easy. Striving for a successful career in such a skewed environment is even more challenging. But the silver lining is that the world is not static. Public opinions have begun to shift. Research tells us over and over that introverts generally perform better and are more reliable and creative than their extroverted counterparts. Until that shift is complete, exercising some social introvert skills that still align with our personality type can help us reap the benefits of our society’s favoritism for the extrovert, outgoing personalities. By pushing ourselves a little more persistently in front of others, we can help people appreciate us for who we truly are and recognize the skills we have to bring to the table.
Field Notes brings you first-hand workplace experiences written by contributors who share their own stories, the lessons they’ve learned, and the unique benefits of a quiet approach to life in the office. Whether you’re an introvert looking to make the most of your strengths or an extrovert/ambivert who wants to learn how your quiet colleagues tick, Field Notes offers real-world insights about taking a walk on the quiet side. Submit your own story and watch this space for more perspectives from your colleagues.