Self-Promotion for Introverts, written by Nancy Ancowitz, offers a gentle approach to getting the recognition and opportunities you deserve. Get career advancement tips, quips and insights for the quieter crowd.
Is an introverted lawyer an oxymoron? Not according to Heidi K. Brown, author of The Introverted Lawyer: A Seven-Step Journey Toward Authentically Empowered Advocacy. In her myth-busting book, Brown shows how introverts can succeed in a profession known for arguing persuasively and competing to win. She contends that introverted lawyers contribute to the profession through strengths that include active listening, creative problem-solving, and careful legal writing. An introvert herself, Brown is the director of the legal writing program and an associate professor at Brooklyn Law School.
NA: Why did you write The Introverted Lawyer?
HKB: As a quiet and introverted law student nearly three decades ago, I struggled a lot with the performance aspects of law school—being cold-called in class, and participating in mock oral arguments, simulated client interviews, and negotiations. I thought there was something wrong with me because, in contrast to my peers, it took me a while to think through my answers to classroom questions. I also didn’t love the rapid-fire discourse that was expected of me in unfamiliar performance scenarios.
Nonetheless, I landed a great legal job in a very aggressive, hard-hitting construction litigation firm. I loved the substantive area of law; the cases were intellectually challenging, and I thrived and contributed readily in my initial research and writing role. But as a junior associate, I felt sick before every public speaking scenario, deposition, and courtroom appearance. Again, I (mistakenly) assumed that I somehow had a weakness that I had to “fix.”
Eventually, after 15 years of trying (and failing) to fake extroversion, I transitioned from law practice to teaching and noticed that my most insightful, creative, thoughtful problem-solvers and gifted legal writers often were my most quiet students. I began to study the differences between introversion and extroversion, and the distinctions among introversion, shyness, and social anxiety. That research led to two law review articles, and eventually my book.
NA: What goals do you hope The Introverted Lawyer achieves?
HKB: I hope readers—introverts and extroverts alike—can use the book to enhance their understanding about differences among team members in professional environments and the strengths that different personality types bring to the table. Writing the book helped me better understand my own natural quietude. I want to help other quiet individuals realize the tremendous assets they bring to interpersonal and business relationships. Further, instead of faking or forcing extroversion, which can cause unnecessary internal conflict and stress, I advocate for learning how to amplify our voices in an authentic manner when we need to make ourselves heard in a personal or professional interaction.
NA: It sounds as if we’re on the same page about the importance of authenticity. The first four steps of your seven-step plan focus on mental and physical techniques for introverts to “amplify their voices” authentically in performance moments. Would you describe those four steps?
HKB: The first four steps of the plan involve mental and physical reflection, and then mental and physical action to amplify our voices authentically, instead of following advice like “fake it till you make it”—which never worked for me.
In Step 1, we reflect on any unhelpful mental messages we play on a soundtrack loop in our minds in anticipation of, or during, a performance event. In doing so, we try to identify their original sources, decide whether the messages are in any way relevant to our current professional personas, and if not, give ourselves permission to delete or overwrite them.
In Step 2, we perform a physical inventory to assess how our physical bodies react in anticipation of, or during, a performance event. In other words, do we try to make ourselves small, hunch down, shrink, or cross our legs or arms, thereby blocking our energy, oxygen, and blood flow?
In Step 3, we begin ejecting the unhelpful and outdated messages from the past and crafting useful taglines and prompts for the future.
In Step 4, we adopt new physical stances, postures, and movement techniques to better manage and channel excess energy or over-stimulation ignited by an interpersonal exchange.
NA: What do the remaining three steps entail?
HKB: In Step 5, we construct a reasonable and practical “exposure” agenda—brainstorming a series of realistic interpersonal interactions and ranking them from least stressful to most anxiety-producing. Through this thoughtfully structured chronology, and with careful planning and mindful intent, we experiment with modified mental and physical approaches to each agenda event, with the goal of capitalizing on quiet strengths and amplifying our authentic voices.
In Step 6, we develop personalized mental and physical pregame and game-day routines for each exposure agenda item.
In Step 7, we enter into each exposure event, consciously integrating the new mental messages and physical adjustments adopted in earlier steps. Then, we reflect on and acknowledge successes and challenges within each exposure event. We tweak the pre-game and game-day routines for each subsequent exposure agenda item. Finally, we share our stories and empower others.
NA: Those seven steps sound like a powerful toolkit for introverts. You write about handling Socratic debate in law school. How do you recommend introverts in any career path prepare for situations when they’re put on the spot?
Source: StockUnlimited, used with permission
HKB: Because introverts naturally like to think before speaking, the expectation for an immediate response in dialogues like a classroom exchange, a negotiation, a courtroom or boardroom scenario, a networking event, or even a job interview can initially feel challenging. However, it’s transformational when introverts realize and begin to trust that they are substantively prepared, they know what they are talking about, and they do know the answers to tough questions. We then can arm ourselves with mental and physical techniques for jumping into the fray a little faster than our normal preference, when spontaneous dialogue is required.
NA: What “mental techniques” do you recommend?
HKB: Before I step into a scenario that involves “thinking on my feet,” I first conduct a mental reboot. I’m always substantively prepared, but inevitably the old soundtrack messages creep in about my ability to deliver “on the spot” responses. When I start to experience self-doubt about my natural ability to respond quickly, I press “pause” on the internal soundtrack. I tell myself, “Wait a minute. You’re substantively prepared. You absolutely deserve to be here. You have something important to say. You’re entitled to say it in your own authentic way.” Then I combine those fresh mental messages with a physical recalibration.
NA: Those techniques sounds powerful. Would you describe the mental soundtrack messages you refer to in the book?
HKB: For three years of law school and 15 years of law practice, I thought there was something wrong with me. I worried that I wasn’t “cut out” for the profession. When I started researching and writing The Introverted Lawyer and implemented the advice of the many experts I discovered in my research, I began to listen to, hear, and transcribe the negative mental messages playing on a soundtrack in my mind in anticipation of each performance event.
The words and language were unpleasant and harmful: “You’re going to look stupid and incompetent. You’re going to blush and turn red and everyone will sense weakness. Why can’t you just jump into the fray like everybody else?”
In doing this necessary self-study work, I realized that these harmful internal messages stemmed from feedback I had interpreted as critical from perhaps well-meaning authority figures in my past, and that I repeated over and over in my mind for years. I had to consciously decide that these outdated messages were no longer relevant to my new lawyer persona. It was time to delete them and create new ones.
NA: How do you replace the old mental messages with new ones?
HKB: Today, when I feel pre-performance jitters, the old messages automatically pop up. But I recognize them faster. I tell myself, “Oh wait, it’s just fear again.” Then I immediately launch my new mental taglines: “You deserve to be here. You have something important to say. You’re entitled to say it in your voice. Who cares if you blush or turn red? Who cares if your voice shakes? You’re amazing. Now go.”
Reframing the mental messages in advance—and again in the performance moment—provides a 30-second mental reboot to remind myself that I can do this. I combine those new mental taglines with a quick physical recalibration, and then I step into the performance. Each of the foregoing techniques just adds another layer of control, enabling us to dial down our anxiety level one or two notches so our substance can shine.
NA: What physical techniques do you recommend?
HKB: To physically recalibrate, I intentionally adopt an athlete’s balanced stance—seated or standing—fighting my natural urge to self-protect by “becoming small.” Instead, I open up my frame, balance my feet on the floor, extend my forearms on the chair arms, table, or podium, shift my shoulders back, and breathe. Combining my mental techniques with the physical balanced stance, I listen to the question, and then I speak in my authentic (but slightly amplified) voice.
Many introverts dislike interrupting people and being interrupted. Yet, when put on the spot, we can fortify ourselves with our new mental messages and strong physical stance, and step into the performance event, proudly taking ownership of the moment so that our substantive content can shine.
NA: What is your response to those who suggest that introverts should either choose or stay away from certain career paths?
Source: StockUnlimited, used with permission
HKB: I have heard from well-meaning peers or colleagues that I chose the wrong profession or the wrong type of law practice for my personality type. I strongly disagree. I am a big believer in the notion that introverts can excel in any professional environment, no matter how outwardly performance-driven, by enhancing self-awareness of our strengths, and capitalizing on those strengths instead of trying to force extroversion.
I wish I could go back in time and re-do all my past lawyering performance events authentically, rather than trying to mirror others’ behavior and pretend to be someone other than who I am. I would have trusted my preparation more, applied my mental and physical techniques, and asserted myself in my natural measured manner instead of trying to be loud.
NA: A lot of introverts dislike communicating by phone. How do you recommend that they prepare for important conference calls?
HKB: I admit that I strongly dislike communicating by phone. I love texting and emailing. But of course, we all need to be able to pick up the phone on occasion and participate in business-related calls. As an introvert, the phone agitates me because of the inevitable competing stimuli—static, echoing effects, weak transmission signals, background noise, constant interruptions, dropped calls, and the need to start again.
Group calls can be even more chaotic: participants joining late, voices speaking over one another, double or triple the background noise (sirens, computer alerts, pets, traffic). For introverts processing all of these stimuli, phone calls can be immensely draining and can derail an otherwise productive day.
To maximize my focus during a workweek, I schedule a series of phone calls on the same day instead of spacing them out throughout the week. I try to establish (and, if appropriate, hold the participants to) a reasonable “hard stop” for each call so I know the expected duration in advance. I prepare substantive notes of the points I need to convey, and I may even circulate those points—or agenda items—to the call participants in advance. I close my office door before I dial into the call. And routinely, without even planning to, I stand up when I start speaking.
I listen actively during the call; I take notes. If I were to politely wait for a lull in the conversation to interject, it may never arrive, so if I need to make an important point, I begin speaking and keep talking (as respectfully yet assertively as possible) until the others quiet down. I state my points. Before the end of the call, I try to recap what we discussed and any next steps, if appropriate for the particular audience.
NA: Likewise, any tips for video calls?
HKB: Video calls can be even trickier for introverts, especially because people can see us if we stand up to speak on the phone. I tend to dim the lighting in my office when I engage in a video call, to reduce at least one of the competing stimuli. If the videos cut in and out and the gaps in comprehension become disruptive, I suggest that the participants switch to audio only.
Source: StockUnlimited, used with permission
NA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
HKB: Discovering and reading introversion books like Susan Cain’s Quiet changed my entire perspective on my personality and individual strengths. Our American education system and professional development approaches have for too long emphasized the merits of outward assertion, tipping the reward scales in favor of those for whom interpersonal interaction flows more easily.
Introverted and otherwise naturally quiet individuals bring tremendous assets to classrooms, offices, boardrooms, and courtrooms. I encourage all of us to learn more about ourselves, how we individually thrive, how our strengths might differ from others’ strengths, and how diverse perspectives and approaches to problem solving enhance our collective human experience. Indeed, we introverts can amplify our voices when we need to do so, but we should do it authentically. No more “faking it till we make it.” No more forcing an extroverted persona to fit in. We are impactful just the way we are.
Are you interested in relaunching your career after taking time off to raise children, care for elder parents, or navigate personal challenges? How can you get back into the work world, especially as an introvert – or someone who recharges their energy during their quiet time, and who may find searching for a job especially overwhelming? In this discussion with Carol Fishman Cohen, chair and co-founder of iRelaunch, author of Back on the Career Track, and host of the 3,2,1 iRelaunch! podcast, you’ll get tips for easing back into the work world.
NA: What typical challenges do career relaunchers face?
CFC: The biggest challenge is figuring out what you want to do all over again. Your entire relaunch rests on the answer to this question. Your career break can be a gift in this regard, because it’s often the first time you allow yourself to step back and evaluate whether you were on the right career path to begin with.
Some relaunchers realize they were not. Maybe, like so many of us right out of school, you fell into your original career without much thought or you were fulfilling someone else’s – like your parents’ – expectations. If you’re in this category, you may decide to relaunch your career in an entirely new direction.
Some people are fortunate in that they were on exactly the right career path to begin with, and they return to a similar role to what they were doing pre-career break. A third category is people who liked what they were doing pre-career break, but something about that role – usually excessive travel demands – no longer feels compatible with their life stage. They may seek out something related to what they were doing before, but not exactly the same role.
Those in the first and third categories may end up taking a job for lower compensation than what they left.
CFC: It can be because you are in a new field and need to start closer to entry level. Or because taking away a demanding travel requirement, for example, may mean your new role is paid less.
NA: What is your favorite tip for introverts who are looking to relaunch their careers? We often find too much socializing draining.
CFC: Successful relaunches depend on getting out of the house and going public with your job search. This can be excruciating for introverts. So, attend networking events with a wingman or wingwoman and brag on each other’s behalf.
NA: Can you give an example?
CFC: Picture this – you and your buddy meet someone during the networking session before a panel begins at a professional association event. The new person asks you what you do. You start in with a quick description, and your buddy interjects, “Ellen is being modest. She was recently in charge of what became the largest fundraiser in the history of our local hospital. They raised over $2 million dollars, in part because of the corporate matching fund arrangements she negotiated.”
This is information you probably wouldn’t share on your own, and you certainly wouldn’t use that kind of language. However, if another person is doing it on your behalf, it seems perfectly natural and not “braggy.”
NA: We’re on the same page about the value of networking with a wingperson. Both people can also benefit simply by introducing one another around – expanding their networks mutually. What’s another tip?
CFC: This tip is for introverts who are strong writers. I originally heard this concept from Ari Kaplan, who was giving this advice to introverted lawyers. He said to use your writing skills to network.
NA: Yes, it’s important to remember that plenty of networking can also happen from the comfort of your keyboard. Would you give an example?
CFC: Go to an organization that has an online newsletter and ask if they would publish an interview with Expert X if you can make it happen. Then you can approach Expert X and say you are writing a piece for the XYZ professional association newsletter. You could ask for a 30-minute interview on topics A, B, and C. The expert will likely say yes. You then meet them. Later, you can share the link to the article. After that, you could share an article you thought they might be interested in, or a conference you noticed was requesting speaker proposals that would be great for them to speak at. Handled respectfully and with patience, this could be the beginning of a relationship that is not based on the opportunistic “can you help me find a job?” request.
NA: That’s another effective way to expand your network without being pushy. It also plays to the strength of many introverts to build strong relationships one person at a time, over time.
On another note, you advise career relaunchers to “save the best for last” when going to job fairs and other networking events. That sounds like a smart strategy, particularly for introverts, who often benefit by practicing their self-introductions out loud. Would you give an example of how that can work?
CFC: Yes – say you get to a job fair, or for that matter, you are at the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference, and have your eye on one particular company’s return-to-work program. Don’t make a beeline for that company as soon as you walk in the door. First, speak with other participants to loosen up and practice what is essentially a script succinctly talking about your background and interests.
Then have that conversation with other companies to warm up some more. Then approach the #1 company on your list. Why? When you walk away from the earlier conversations, you may think, “oh, I forgot to say X.” You want that to happen in the conversation that is less important, not the most important one.
One additional point – you mention “practicing self-introductions.”
NA: Yes, also commonly called “elevator pitches.” Some people don’t like them because they can sound wooden. That’s true, so it’s vital to use them as talking points, but to always sound natural. And those practiced self-introductions are particularly helpful for introverts.
CFC: Yes. They are mandatory. Write out different versions of these introductions – short, long, for someone in your field, for someone outside your field, and so on. Then, practice them over and over again in front of a mirror or talk to a wall or record yourself on your phone. You must do this out loud, and not simply imagine yourself answering these questions in your head.
Laszlo Bock, the former head of People Operations for Google, writes in his book Work Rules! about treating your self-introductions as if they were theater performances. We say to practice them first with non-judgmental friends and family. Then you can branch out to people you know less well. The more you rehearse, the more confident you will feel, and the better you will sound when it really counts – in the interview itself.
NA: That’s useful advice, especially for introverts, who can get tongue-tied speaking on the spot. Another useful tip you share is a reminder for career relaunchers – introverts and extroverts alike – that their old colleagues often remember them “frozen in time,” from before their career breaks. You spoke about that eloquently in your “How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break” TED talk. How can that reminder be helpful?
CFC: “Frozen in time” is an element of confidence boosting. If you are on career break for a long time, especially in a caregiving role, you can become professionally disconnected. Since so much of your identity may be wrapped up in how you view yourself professionally, taking that out of the equation can result in a diminished sense of self.
The beauty of the “frozen-in-time’’ concept is that even though you are experiencing a diminished sense of self in the present, when you get in touch with people with whom you went to school or worked, they don’t know about any of that. They only remember you as you were. As a result, their enthusiasm about your interest in returning to work can be a real confidence booster.
NA: What an astute insight. Can you give an example of the “frozen-in-time” concept?
CFC: It happened to me at my 15-year business school reunion. I ran into a former classmate who had become a headhunter. I had been on a career break for the prior 10 years and was starting to think seriously about returning to work at an investment firm – although I had no idea how I was going to do it. This was in 2000, before the introduction of return-to-work programs or media attention to relaunching. I didn’t know anyone else who had returned to work after a career break.
Nine months after the conversation with my former classmate, I heard from her. She said she had come across an investment banking role that was a perfect match for my skillset. What skillset was she talking about? The one she remembered when we sat next to each other as MBA candidates 17 years earlier! That’s when “frozen in time” first occurred to me as a concept. It has been validated many times over with other relaunchers since then.
NA: You’ve mentioned the importance of aiming for lots of networking conversations, since you don’t know which ones will turn into valuable leads. What is your favorite energy-saving technique for introverts?
CFC: I can’t sugar coat this. There is no substitute for many, many conversations over time. You need to have a lot of them to yield the few that are the true leads. The context for these conversations is where I can give advice to introverts.
NA: I like that you say that the conversations can happen “over time.”
CFC: Yes. Also, introverts should aim to have these conversations as a by-product of interactions in another context, rather than at “networking events.” Whether you join Toastmasters International, attend university lecture series, pursue strategic volunteering roles or take courses, conversations that occur in these contexts can ultimately lead to job opportunities.
NA: I wholeheartedly agree. The best networking, especially for introverts, is often at venues other than “networking events.”
CFC: An example is Toastmasters, where most of the participants are in the work world. All have the goal of becoming better public speakers. So many people are afraid of public speaking, regardless of their work status. So, this is a great context in which to introduce yourself and have casual conversations that could lead to an introduction. And that leads to another one that ultimately is the key to a job opportunity. Conversations you have in the regular course of your day can lead to opportunities.
An introverted mom who sat next to another parent while watching their kids play in a soccer match mentioned she was looking for an accounting role after 13 years away from work. The other parent said he’d ask his HR department. The mom got a temp job that turned into a permanent opportunity.
NA: That’s another important point for introverts – consider temporary employment or consulting work that could lead to permanent positions. Those options can be a wonderful way for the professional and the employer to get to know one another to ensure that they’re well matched.
To that end, in “The 40-Year-Old Intern,” a story you wrote for the Harvard Business Review, you point out that employees who return to work after a career break are an excellent investment for employers. Why is that? How can introverts, in particular, benefit from “returnships” (a term trademarked by Goldman Sachs) and other internships?
CFC: The talent pool of returning professionals is high caliber, loyal, and high performing. Relaunchers are educated, they have great work experience, and a mature perspective. They are in a stable stage of life, with most maternity leaves and spousal or partner job relocations behind them. Plus, they have an energy and enthusiasm about returning to work that employers consistently appreciate. Relaunchers are chomping at the bit to get back to work and prove themselves all over again – and it shows.
Goldman’s Returnship program was the first to be established, in 2008. At iRelaunch, we have more than 90 global corporate return-to-work programs on our fast-growing list. Stats from formal return-to-work programs show that, on average, 85% of participants are hired when they complete these programs.
Introverts can benefit from these mid-career internship programs in the same way that employers do – they provide a testing-out period for both parties before the hiring decision is made. The programs include learning-and-development opportunities, mentorship, and transitional support. Most importantly, mid-career internship programs are built around a cohort structure, in which groups of relaunchers move through the program together, providing a built-in personal and professional support network.
NA: Thank you for your powerful insights for relaunchers, with special tips for introverts! The work you’re doing sounds exciting, innovative, and valuable.
Matthew Pollard’s new book, The Introvert’s Edge: How the Quiet and Shy Can Outsell Anyone, offers myth-busting insights to help you excel at sales – without being that salesperson we all want to dodge. To play to their strengths, introverts sell differently from extroverts. I offered a whiff of that in my post, “Can an Introvert Sell Well?” In his book, Pollard goes much further, with compelling stories and techniques you can use right away. He’s here to share a taste of his collaborative and thoughtful – yet highly effective – approach to selling.
NA: I appreciate that you tell your personal story in The Introvert’s Edge. Would you share some of the highlights?
MP: As a highly introverted teenager with terrible acne and the reading speed of a sixth grader, I fell into sales when the company I worked for went bankrupt, and commission-only sales was the only job I could find. On my first day, with a little product training and no sales training at all, I received 92 rejections in a row. I knew something had to change; I’d promised my father I would support myself, and I had to figure it out. But I couldn’t exactly pick up a Zig Ziglar or a Brian Tracy book – it would have taken me a year to read it!
I decided sales had to be a system, a learnable skill like any other; otherwise, I was going to have a really hard year. Then I went looking for a way that I could learn that system. I turned to YouTube, new at the time, and discovered a lot more than just cat videos.
I watched video after video on various elements of a sale, focusing on one at a time. The next day, I’d go out and practice what I learned. This went on for six weeks – eight hours of working my sales job, then eight hours of teaching myself sales; each day, my results improved. At the end of that six-week period, my boss called me into his office and informed me that I was the #1 salesperson in the company, the largest sales and marketing firm in the Southern hemisphere. Soon after that, I was promoted multiple times to teach others the sales system that I’d created. Soon after that, I took the leap into business for myself. Fast forward a little over a decade and I’d been responsible for five multimillion-dollar business success stories across a diverse range of industries, such as telecommunications and nationally accredited education.
More importantly than that, I’d gone from scared to sell, really terrified to do it, to teaching hundreds how to do it.
NA: What got you to write your book?
MP: I wrote The Introvert’s Edge to let other introverts know that this success is possible for them too. You don’t have to use any uncomfortable bulldog techniques or hard closing tactics, and you don’t have to change who you are. You simply have to embrace your introverted gifts and follow the process.
NA: What myths can you dispel about introverts and sales?
MP: The biggest myth is that you must have an outgoing personality and the gift of gab to be an effective salesperson. This idea is so hardwired into our understanding of sales culture that everyone just takes it for granted. But it is simply not true. Introverts have several innate qualities that actually make them better salespeople: empathy, active listening, preparation, and analytical thinking, just to name a few. When these qualities are leveraged into a clear, repeatable, reliable system, introverts can outsell their extroverted counterparts hands down.
NA: You describe seven steps to attaining an introvert’s edge in sales. What is the essence of each one?
MP: First, establish trust and chart the course. You have to connect on a personal level. Without trust, you’re not going to get far. In addition, set a clear agenda, so the prospect knows where the conversation is going.
Second, ask questions to help you find the pain points. They may understandably not want to open up to you, a complete stranger. If this happens, tell stories about customers like them who’ve had the same problems. They’ll soon share that they’ve experienced these problems as well.
Third, make sure you’re speaking to the decision maker. Are you actually in a sales meeting, or are you still trying to get one in the first place?
Fourth, tell a story. Customers can compare you with the competition in a matter of seconds. So instead of trying to sell a solution, tell them the story of a customer you had just like them, and how you provided the exact result they were looking for. Stories work incredibly well because they defuse the logical mind and engage the emotional mind. In addition, research from Princeton describes the “neural coupling” that takes place between the storyteller and the listener, synchronizing and creating coherence in the brains of both people, stimulating instant rapport. And Stanford research has found that people are 22 times more likely to remember information told in a story versus in a recitation of facts.
Fifth, answer objections with stories. Customers don’t want to hear why they’re wrong or why their reasoning is flawed. Just tell a natural, prepared story of a past customer who had the same objection or concern, and what a great result you ended up getting for them.
Sixth, “take their temperature.” Traditional sales techniques say you have to “ask for the sale.” But such a direct question can immediately put people on their guard, and makes introverts uncomfortable. Instead, I use the trial close. You can try a casual question, such as, “So, would package A or B work better for you?” More often than not, they will pick an option, a good indication that they are likely going to move forward. If they don’t, you can go back to sharing more stories.
Seventh, assume the sale. Even after a successful trial close, I still don’t like to ask for the sale. Give them an easy way to say yes, a task to take the next step, and then assume the sale unless they say otherwise.
Lastly, but most importantly, perfect the process. This is really the cornerstone of my entire approach to sales.
NA: What takeaways do you hope readers of your book will gain?
MP: I encourage them to understand that sales is a system like anything else, and that once you learn the system, you can outsell your extroverted counterparts. Being prepared does not make you less authentic or robotic-sounding; it’s the opposite. You can be even more genuine because you’re not stuck in your head wondering what you’re going to say next. You can feel natural and comfortable when you’re following a clear process and simply going through the steps. Finally, recognize that while this may seem like a lot of work at the outset, it really doesn’t take that long. It took me six weeks to develop and practice my process to become the #1 salesperson. Even better, the process is something that will serve you for the rest of your professional life.
NA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MP: Introverts can be great not only at sales, but at all business activities traditionally associated with extroversion, such as networking, presenting, pitching investors, and being an inspirational CEO. Introverts simply need to stop trying to be more extroverted, and instead, discover how to leverage their innate skills inside a structured process.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that introverts have to enter these fields; I probably would have been perfectly happy continuing to do data entry for the rest of my career. So if you prefer to be a writer or a coder, or in some other traditionally introverted field, go for it! Just know that if you choose to, you can do any of these things. I’m so glad I took the leap myself, and I would never trade my life now for anything else.
Some dangers aren’t really dangerous–not to life and limb, anyhow. Take improvisation, which you actually do every day. Your boss is late to a crucial meeting that you know nothing about and asks you to facilitate. Your computer freezes while you’re under deadline. A hiring manager for your dream job asks you an outrageous question on an interview.
How can we make real-world improvising less treacherous, and even fun, for introverts in the workplace? Master improviser Carl Kissin shared some tips during our recent discussion. Since then, I spoke with Caitlin McClure about how you can help your whole team benefit from the tools of improvised theater. McClure has been designing and facilitating leadership development programs worldwide using applied improvisation as a key methodology. Her new book, Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre reveals a wealth of stories and easy-to-use tools that you can immediately add to your own toolbox.
NA: What is applied improvisation?
CM: It is the practice of using the techniques and theories of improvised theater and applying them to something other than theatrical performance.
NA: Would you give an example?
CM: Cathy Salit runs an organization based in NYC called Performance of a Lifetime (POAL). For more than 20 years, POAL has been opening up the toolbox of improv to help leaders and independent contributors in the workplace courageously take risks, adapt to the unexpected with more agility, and handle difficult conversations with ease. She wrote a case study for my book about her work helping oncology nurses at Johns Hopkins develop more resiliency. POAL uses the same improv games that performers use, but adapts them for the workplace.
NA: How valuable! Yet, the word “games,” like “improv,” evokes terror in many an introvert.
CM: You’ve hit on one of the biggest barriers to this work: the terminology. This is one of the reasons my co-editor, Theresa Robbins Dudeck, and I were so driven to create this book. People hear “improv” and they think comedy. They hear “games” and they think unprofessional and childish. I have done regular improv and applied improv with introverts, and nobody has yet run out of the room feeling terrorized! In fact, many of the best facilitators of this work are introverts.
NA: Right. While introverts are often not drawn to taking improv classes because they like to think before sharing their thoughts, they can learn to build their improv muscles. That often starts with the simple two words, “yes, and.” Caitlin, how about if we demonstrate that?
CM: Yes! How about if you start us off?
Contributors to “Applied Improvisation” (from left): Cathy Salit, Caitlin McClure (co-editor), Amy Veltman, Barbara Tint
NA: Caitlin, why don’t we co-host an improv event for our colleagues?
CM: Yes, and we could serve them tea and cookies.
NA: Yes, and we could use my new tea-and-cookie set.
CM: No, I don’t like that idea.
NA: Ouch, Caitlin. I have to go now. I just remembered that I have to pay a bill.
CM: Exactly! It’s more fun to pay bills than to have me shoot down your ideas. While there are plenty of times to be critical and say no to ideas, most people under-use other conversational choices like yes, and. That means they are missing out on some great opportunities to build on other people’s ideas. One of the things we practice in improv is building up the yes, and muscle so that it is as strong as the no muscle, which we hear in the business world all the time.
NA: What are other options for answering an open-ended question, such as the one I started with? I’ll ask again: Why don’t we co-host an improv event for our colleagues?
CM: No, we should host an event only for our friends.
NA: Thud. Thank you. How about a more positive response? One last time. Why don’t we co-host an improv event for our colleagues?
CM: Yes, but…I’m really busy right now.
NA: So even a “yes, but” response is a form of a no. Correct?
CM: That’s correct. You can easily tell by observing whether the forward momentum of a conversation continues or or feels blocked.
Source: Storm/Adobestockfeels blocked.
NA: How do you use a game like this in the workplace?
CM: We might ask people to pair up and plan an imaginary party just like you and I did. In each round, they would practice different responses (yes, and; yes, but; no, we should…). The key to applied improvisation, as opposed to stage improvisation, is providing participants opportunities to reflect on an experience. So, after playing the different rounds of the game, we might ask them to describe how each round was different from the next. Then we ask them to connect the dots between the game and their work lives.
For instance, we may ask participants to think about a specific time in their workplace when they’ve seen someone shoot down their ideas by saying, “yes, but…”? What was the result of that interaction? What would be different if their teams were to say, “yes, and” more often?
Planning a “yes, and” party is a standard improv game that improvisers use to help them perform onstage. But this same game works beautifully to help people strengthen their yes, and muscle for use offstage, as well.
NA: We’ve demonstrated why “yes, and” is the well-deserved darling of improv. What are a few other basic tenets?
CM: Appendix A in my book describes some of the most commonly held tenets, but this is a living tradition, so every improv school has its own way to describe them. I wrote a chapter about my time as a senior management consultant at Tiffany & Co., where we reworded the term “yes, and” to make it sound more businesslike. The tenets we used at Tiffany were: commit, make your partner look good, build with what you are given (yes, and), treat mistakes as gifts, be curious, and be obvious.
NA: They’re all important. Yet, one of my favorites has always been to make your partner look good. Applying that in the business world, where so many people elbow their way upward, it’s refreshing to remember that principle.
CM: That reminds me of Project Aristotle at Google, in which researchers determined that high performing teams shared two characteristics: equal turn-taking and that all team members had average or higher social sensitivity. In other words, team members make their partners look good. If you and I are collaborating on something and you do your best to make me look good and vice versa, our final project will look good. And we’re probably going to enjoy the process along the way.
NA: Yes, and sometimes it’s easier to make you than me look good. Tooting someone else’s horn is often easier than tooting your own horn. Another one of my favorite improv tenets that you cover is “treat mistakes as gifts.” What do you mean by that?
CM: Treating mistakes as gifts is something that business-world clients challenge the most. Some real-world mistakes can have serious consequences, so encouraging mistakes can mean courting danger.
NA: Yes, it’s a delicate dance. On the one hand, you often hear that you have to make mistakes to learn. But how many managers really want their staff to make mistakes?
CM: That’s a great metaphor, a delicate dance. Sometimes stretching and learning from a mistake is the right choice. Other times, there is zero tolerance for error. So, I encourage leaders to be intentional with how they use their time and energy with their teams. If they create teams that are exclusively risk averse, they will have limited success.
NA: Another aspect of making mistakes are the consequences for not only the organization, but the individual employee. How will their boss critique them? Will it be in private?
CM: Each leader creates their own organizational climate for their teams. Some leaders create climates in which mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. These leaders are transparent with their own successes and mistakes and they respectfully share feedback about their direct reports’ successes and failures, providing opportunities to learn.
Unfortunately, other leaders create climates that do not encourage risk, and do not treat mistakes as gifts. We must learn to work within our leader’s expectations. If my leader sees a mistake as a learning opportunity, I will share my slip ups with them, and together we can find good solutions. If my leader sees every slip up as unacceptable, then I will probably hide my mistakes and hope they don’t find out. The latter option is not healthy or sustainable for me, my boss, or my organization.
NA: Indeed. Leaders who encourage risk and treat mistakes as gifts create a safe environment for their team members. Along those lines, another tenet that I adore is “be curious.” In so many workplaces, discussions get heated and employees get angry and defensive. Would you give an example of how to counter that?
CM: Be curious is one of my favorites, too, and is perfect for keeping disagreements from becoming full-blown conflicts. Healthy organizations know that disagreements are normal and actually result in stronger decisions and more innovation. Be curious invites me to ask you about your point of view, especially when I disagree with it!
NA: So, Caitlin, I think we should sell ACME’s headquarters building for a dollar.
CM: My initial response is to say you’re out of your mind. A dollar?! But to follow the tenet to be curious, I acknowledge my initial response of judging what you said and then try to be curious. So I might think, well, Nancy’s smart and she’s good with a budget, so she must have a good idea why she suggests we do this. Let me find out more before I tell her she’s out of her mind. I might say, Nancy, tell me more. What’s your rationale?
NA: Great response, Caitlin. You’re giving the other party, me, an opportunity to explain my idea, rather than putting it down or dismissing it. And putting our heads together can lead to a much better idea.
CM: Much like creating this conversation together is much better than if I had tried to do it myself!
NA: Right. Before we wrap up this discussion, tell me what inspired you to compile this book.
CM: When I first started practicing applied improvisation more than 20 years ago, people would look at me quizzically: Improv? In business? Now, I have colleagues in South Africa, Turkey, Hong Kong, Finland, and Holland, all using the tools and techniques of improv to help kids on the autism spectrum explore empathy, to help college campuses facilitate difficult conversations about diversity, and to help small groups prepare for disasters—all chapters in my book, by the way. We collected these stories so that readers would see all the possibilities of applied improvisation, rather than think only of comedy.
NA: What’s different about your book?
CM: We give away some of our best secrets. Our goal is to encourage everyone to explore the practical, effective world of applied improv. So each of chapter includes a case study as well as simple instructions for how to lead some of the same games used in it. Readers can mix and match any of the 30 games in the book and start doing applied improvisation in their own organizations. Another differentiator is that we illustrate the depth and breadth of this field. Twelve practitioners from all over the world use the same improv tools and theories and apply them to different situations to help people in almost any endeavor.
NA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CM: It has been so exciting to see how this field has grown since I started. Performance improv often appeals to a very extroverted group. By taking improv offstage, everyone can participate and benefit from the power of these improv tenets–introverts and extroverts alike.
NA: Thank you for sharing your passion for applied improv and describing how introverts, in particular, can benefit from it.
There’s nothing like a good story to bring a message to life. Whether you’re giving a presentation, interviewing for a job, or introducing yourself at a social event, having a few stories up your sleeve facilitates meaningful connections. This is especially true if you’re an introvert who prefers to compose thoughts before sharing them.
NG: I was doing research about comedians for my doctoral dissertation, examining how they learn to use humor to raise awareness about social and political issues. I expected that they spent hours watching and reading the news. That was only partially true. More importantly, they drew upon their own personal experiences to create their material. In other words, they told stories from their lives – of course, they also used techniques to make them funny.
I was intrigued and thought, “I know I won’t be a comedian, but I want to tell stories.” As I was preparing to defend my dissertation, I took a class to learn how to tell them, and it clicked for me. Discussing the importance of being relatable and relevant, and practicing using description and dialogue gave me a language for what my favorite comedians were doing. The rest, as they say, is her-story.
NA: How can storytelling help introverts in their careers?
NG: As an introvert, I sometimes risk being perceived as aloof. Telling a brief story allows me to create connections with others; that makes me more approachable. For example, I was new to an organization and working with a colleague for the first time. On first glance, we had nothing in common. I knew he was about 20 years my junior, loved weightlifting and had hated going to college. All he knew about me was from the diplomas I had on my wall. So to break the ice, I shared a story about growing up in a middle-class household, and what it was like being the first one in my family to go to college. He then shared how his brother was the first in his family to go to college, and our conversation flowed from there.
NA: Nice. By disclosing a bit through storytelling, you learned something you had in common. What is the hardest part about storytelling for introverts?
NG: Some people are better than others at crafting stories on the spot. Introverts often need time to prepare stories, and to think of the intention of their stories. Why are you telling it? What events communicate your message? And how do they link together? That is, what are the beginning, middle, and end of your story?
NA: How can you decide what to tell a story about?
NG: Prepare a story about an obstacle you faced in business, a personal dragon you conquered, or some adversity you have overcome. Other ideas: a time you were inspired or created something that solved a problem. You can also tell a story about a time you learned or taught a lesson.
NA: What shortcut can you recommend to get past “the blank page” when crafting a story?
NG: In his book To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink mentions a useful formula called the Pixar Pitch. Storyboard artist Emma Coats created it and Pixar used this formula in movies like Finding Nemo. I first heard about it from an advertising executive, so I know it has been used in many contexts and can become the basis of a compelling story. Here goes:
Once upon a time _________. Every day ____________. One day ___________. Because of that ___________. Because of that ________. Until finally ____________.
NA: That’s a fine idea to jumpstart the process. Once you have a story, how can you refine it?
Source: StockUnlimited (with permission)
NG: Practice it with trusted friends and invite their constructive feedback. What did they appreciate about it? What would they like to hear more of? This will be more useful than rehearsing on your own in front of a mirror.
NA: I also recommend asking those friends to videotape you on your smartphone so you can see for yourself how you did. On a related note, Nancy, what if you’re soft-spoken and not a natural performer?
NG: It’s important to distinguish between telling a story and performing it. You needn’t perform a story by acting it out or dramatizing it. In fact, it will be more authentic, and therefore more relatable, if you speak it conversationally.
I like the advice Shawn Callahan, author of Putting Stories to Work, offers: when you share a story, imagine it actually happening. Doing so will evoke emotion, so your body language, including your hand gestures, will occur naturally. If you are telling a story to a group of people, make eye contact with one person, pause, then move to another. That will make them feel like you are speaking to each of them.
Source: StockUnlimited (with permission)
NA: Yes, I’m a fan of making eye contact with one person at a time for approximately three seconds or a phrase. What other tips can you offer?
NG: It’s difficult to talk about storytelling without talking about its relationship to listening. The two are intractably connected. Listening is a strength that many introverts have, and it plays an essential role in storytelling. First, listening to others’ stories is a good first step to developing an ear for stories. You will identify what works and what doesn’t. Second, think about your own storytelling style. Third, as tellers we are always attuned to our audience: Are they engaged? Do they comprehend what we’re saying? Are they moved? A practiced storyteller adjusts her or his stories to their listeners.
NA: Would you tell a story about a day in the work life of an introvert?
NG: A few years ago, I started training correction officers to work in jails. It’s a tough environment to become accepted into because of the tight bond among “people in blue.”
As an introvert, I often sat in my closet-sized office, kept my head down, and did my work. Of course, I was cordial but never got beyond the niceties of saying, “good morning” to the people in blue.
I wanted more from my work–to feel as part of the team–so I created something I called Staff Sharing Day. The idea was to get together for a couple of hours in our large conference room and anyone could share something they were passionate about.
I went around the office and asked colleagues, one-on-one–in true introvert fashion–if they would come and share something. Once one person agreed, it was easy to get the others. It also helped that my boss agreed to provide lunch!
I wanted to be a bit revealing by depicting a time I was vulnerable. I have found that if you want someone else to show their imperfections or their humanity, it helps to first show your own. What followed was amazing–one by one, they each told a story!
I learned that one of my colleagues worked in finance, at the same company I had worked at years prior, at the same time! It was a huge organization and we would never have bumped into each other, but having that in common brought us closer. Another described her near-death experience, which was why she focused on the important things in life and was not interested in small talk or gossiping at work. One officer described a time she encouraged an inmate to follow his passion for poetry and he wound up getting a poem published in a magazine! This rich, deep exchange was a turning point in how I related to several of my colleagues.
NA: It sounds like you found an important way to bond with your colleagues through storytelling. Echoing your own advice, I recommend that my clients and students who identify as introverts craft their key stories in advance. This way, they have some when they need them at job interviews, networking events, and other business meetings. What tips can you offer to translate written stories to the spoken word?
NG: I believe that oral stories work better when we can “show” our listeners rather than “tell” them. My job as a storyteller is to appeal to your sense of sight, sound, smell, touch, and/or taste. So, for example, rather than say, “I was nervous” which is internal and can’t be seen, I might say, “My stomach was bursting with jumping beans.”
NA: Great. That’s much more visceral! Who is one of your favorite storytellers, and why?
NG: For entertainment, I really enjoy Mike Birbiglia, a comedian known for his appearances on the popular radio series This American Life. I like how he’s just your average guy, relatable, and combines his ordinary and extraordinary moments to show humor, tenderness, life’s uncertainty and its small wins–the full range of the human experience. In terms of business storytelling, I follow the work of Lori Silverman, author of Wake Me Up When the Data is Over and her co-author of Business Storytelling for Dummies, Karen Dietz, a proud introvert! I appreciate how these two thought leaders in this field have expanded the dialogue about, and applications of, narrative in business.
NA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
NG: Public speaking is a common fear and it was mine for the longest time. Even making a two-minute announcement at a meeting was enough to make my knees quiver. I credit storytelling with helping me triumph over that feeling of dread.
I learned to start my speaking engagements by telling a personal story. By describing an event that has actually happened to me, I am confident that I won’t forget my lines. Having that reassurance calms my nerves. Also, telling a personal story alleviates the fear that I will be “wrong.” When I am telling my story, I know that I cannot be wrong because I am speaking my truth.
Source: StockUnlimited (with permission)
NA:What a powerful insight. There’s nothing like speaking your truth to navigate your nerves and engage the hearts and minds of your audience.
Thank you, Nancy, for sharing a taste of your storytelling wizardry. An important takeaway is that storytelling is a useful tool for introverts. It plays to our strengths by gathering our thoughts behind the scenes, possibly crafting our stories in writing, editing, and then speaking our truth to make meaningful connections with others.
How can you lead a team to perform better amid multiple distractions? New York Times bestselling authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton answer that question in their soon-to-be-released book, The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance (February 2018). The authors’ found that employees are spending exponentially more time in teams. Yet, how effective are those teams?
Drawing on their extensive research, Gostick and Elton share the proven ways managers can build cohesive, productive teams. They identify five crucial disciplines for effective team performance. During my interview with them below, they describe their insights into these disciplines, including specific thoughts about the role of introverts and extroverts on team performance.
NA: We share a passion and curiosity about the role of collaboration in improving the performance of teams. In your book, the first discipline to great team performance is to “Understand Generational Differences.” Would you say more about how those generational differences play out?
AG: Our research has found a handful of pretty big differences in what motivates many Millennials in comparison to older workers – some of which bucks conventional wisdom. For instance, while “autonomy” is one of the stronger motivators for Boomers and Gen Xers, it ranks near the bottom for Millennials.
CE: Another data point with Millennials is that “recognition” from their bosses and coworkers matters much more than it does to older workers. Managers need to consider these trends seriously if they want to engage and retain younger workers on their teams.
NA: That’s an important distinction about what motivates different people, particularly from a generational lens. Your next discipline teases out the concept of motivation even more. Your second discipline, “Manage to the One,” describes the importance of sculpting jobs to enhance individual engagement. Can you say more about what this means? In what ways would that same advice be useful when thinking about introverts and extroverts on a team?
AG: Many of the best managers we’ve studied see huge payoffs in team productivity by tailoring the management of their direct reports to tap their people’s unique motivations and develop each employee’s career, which we call job sculpting. Relatively small changes in tasks can create huge boons in the productivity and loyalty of team members.
CE: Each person has what we call a motivation fingerprint, a unique combination of motivators. Some might be driven more by teamwork and challenge, others by learning and service, and still others by helping colleagues to develop their talents.
When considering the motivation of extroverts, for instance, we see that many thrive on recognition from their managers, while a lot of introverts feel awkward when singled out for a public commendation. Some extroverts enjoy a lot of coaching and mentoring, while introverts may find such help to be cloying.
AG: Our data shows that people are complex. Understanding each teammates’ specific motivators provides a nuanced way to engage employees one-on-one.
NA: What a great concept – motivation fingerprint. I love how it captures the uniqueness of each individual. And, your third discipline is “Speed Productivity,” which you describe as helping new people and teams work faster and smarter. Many introverts tend to work more slowly and methodically rather than the quicker pace of many extroverts. How might these differences play out in this concept of speeding up productivity?
AG: Conventional wisdom was that it took a year for new employees to learn the ropes. Today, we expect new people to figure out all aspects of their jobs in about a month (often less). Managing successful integration into a team – especially for introverts who might be troubled by moving quickly – has a lot to do with managing fear and building strong relationships.
Leaders need to ensure their new people feel secure, and one key in that is helping new team members build solid relationships with colleagues. This is especially important for introverts—who typically prefer working with a small group of individuals they feel comfortable with.
CE: Now, admittedly, creating bonds of affiliation has typically been considered outside the bounds of a manager’s job description. When was the last time the CEO told you to amp up the chumminess of your team? Yet consider the striking increase in team performance that MIT researchers noted at one bank call center that simply had everyone on the team go on coffee break together – versus the standard practice of staggering break times. The average hold time for calls dropped by more than 20 percent for teams that had been the lowest-performing, and employee satisfaction scores also rose dramatically.
AG: The point is that it’s important to help build bonds. It’s also important to consider the nature of introverts as you welcome them aboard. One vice president we spoke with told us of a new employee who joined her team.
“I have a very extroverted management style,” she said, “but the new guy had a very introverted style.” The man’s style seemed similar to a company executive who was also more introverted, “So I sent the new employee to spend a couple of days with that more introverted leader, shadowing him, sitting in on his meetings, helping learn how an introverted kind of leadership style could be really successful in our firm.”
NA: How interesting that speeding productivity is more relationships and security than efficiency. So the example of the introvert shadowing an introvert leader is intriguing about how to find an authentic path toward success.
Your fourth discipline is “Challenge Everything,” which is to inspire innovation through healthy discord as well as help employees feel safe to speak up and debate. How do you create the conditions to foster that healthy discord, particularly given the toxicity of so many workplaces?
CE: We found a core set of effective practices that some of the best team leaders use to practice this kind of transparency and enhance feelings of psychological safety in their modern workgroups. Just a few include: setting rules for debate and, as a leader, taking a turn leading it; diligently and publicly asking questions of team members at all levels, and creating latitude for risk-taking and failure.
The most innovative teams we’ve studied have regular, intense debates—which has been fun for us to observe. The ability to disagree, without causing offense, is essential to robust communication and problem-solving within teams.
AG: Yet, when we pose the question to groups of leaders what’s better—a team that’s almost always harmonious or one that has conflicts and arguments, the vast majority vote for a team without disharmony.
The irony is that teammates want the opportunity to challenge each other – as long as discussions are respectful and everyone gets the chance to contribute equally.
NA: So disagreement is fine as long as people are able to get along in the process! For many introverts, one difficulty is challenging something on the spot, since they often need for time to process and reflect first. What tips or recommendations do you have for creating supportive environments for all types of people to express dissent on the spot?
AG: This is exactly why managers have to set ground rules for healthy debate. They need to actively run many of these discussions, at least at first – modeling the right behaviors: how to make a point respectfully, asking questions of colleagues deferentially, and not taking themselves too seriously.
CE: It’s also the job of team leaders to ensure that all members understand that discussions are not to be hijacked by one or two strong voices, but that everyone must be given a chance to speak up—especially your introverts.
NA: That’s an important message to convey! Lastly, your fifth and final discipline is “Unify with Customer Focus” by building bridges across functions, cultures, and distance. What does that mean? What are some recommendations for how best to unify? And, what are the keys for unifying while simultaneously honoring the differences as well?
CE: Getting teams unified around a codified purpose has become an increasingly urgent issue for managers in a time of growing diversity and globalization. Leaders often attempt to increase team diversity by building bridges between functions, creating what we call cross-functional teams.
AG: Unfortunately, members in these new teams frequently remain at odds and never achieve their goals. Most have been reared in a world where they’ve been largely siloed from other groups. When customer-interests rule – really rule – it helps to adjudicate between opposing views and interests.
For instance, let’s say a cross-functional team, tasked with research and development, is asked to speed up creation of a new product feature because word has it a competitor has the same thing in the works. Typically, this could involve a tussle over whether the feature can be launched in the timeframe – especially given other demands. An intense focus on the customer can help broker agreements with various groups involved in any changes that might be required in delivery, assignment of personnel to meet the need, and rescheduling of other work.
NA: It sounds like creating that shared focus is a key ingredient to success. Thank you, Adrian and Chester, for your powerful insights on fostering effective teams and successful collaboration between introverts and extroverts!
Jenn Granneman is the author of the latest entrant into the burgeoning field of popular introvert literature. Her book, The Secret Lives of Introverts, is autobiographical, relatable, and filled with strategies to help introverts accept and even embrace their differences with the mainstream. I interviewed Granneman to learn more.
NA: With all the introvert books springing up, especially over the past half-dozen years, what got you to write The Secret Lives of Introverts? What’s different about your book?
JG: The Secret Lives of Introverts is the book I’ve been wanting to write since I founded IntrovertDear.com in 2013. It draws on interviews with hundreds of introverts and the latest research on introversion. The book is different because it’s more personal and relatable than other introvert books out there. It offers explanations of the science behind introversion in easy-to-understand, everyday language. It also addresses common problems almost all introverts face, such as getting burned out by socializing and feeling overlooked at work. Reading the book, introverts will say, “Hey, that’s me!”
NA: What have you learned about the science of introversion, including how introverts process stimuli differently from extroverts?
JG: Introverts are wired differently than extroverts. That explains why an introvert will want to go home after an hour or two of socializing, while an extrovert is more inclined to party all night. According to the experts I spoke with, introverts have a less active dopamine reward system than extroverts. This simply means that introverts care less than extroverts about certain rewards (you can find a more thorough explanation in my book). Introverts are just not as motivated and energized by, say, shaking hands with strangers or building huge social circles. In fact, the very things that energize extroverts can be downright draining for introverts.
A: How can introverts find their calling?
Used with permission, StockUnlimited
JG: It may not be easy for introverts to find their calling, but it should be done. Introverts tend to crave meaningful work, and they don’t feel fulfilled until their outer life represents their inner life, at least on some level. A “calling” for an introvert could mean many different things, from driving a truck solo to teaching a classroom of children to being self-employed. Introverts don’t necessarily have to choose a career that sequesters them in a private office all day long. In fact, many introverts told me that they feel very fulfilled working a job that allows them to interact meaningfully with others. Think consulting or counseling – fields in which the interactions are meaningful, as opposed to a call center, where the interactions are repetitive and often frustrating. The important thing is that introverts choose jobs that allow them some quiet time, preferably alone.
In my book, I provide six questions that introverts can ask themselves to help them find their calling. One questions is, “What message do you want to share with the world?” In other words, if you could rent a billboard in Times Square for just one day, what would you put on it? Another question is, “What kinds of tasks don’t feel like work to you?” Some tasks are a cakewalk to complete, and you get compliments on them; build your calling around these energizing tasks.
NA: What is the most surprising misconception you’ve discovered about introverts in the workplace?
JG: Introverts are – wrongly – undervalued as employees. Initially, bosses may favor extroverts for their confident, smooth-talking ways. However, as I explain in my book, research shows that the perceived value of extroverts’ work and their reputation actually decline over time. In other words, we expect a lot from extroverts, but they are not always able to deliver. Introverts, on the other hand, especially those who are conscientious and concerned about what others think of them, may make better employees in the long-run. I believe this is true because introverts tend to come to work, to, well, work, rather than chat and make friends. Introverts also want their work to speak for itself, so they tend to put a lot of time and effort into what they’re producing.
NA: What challenges have you had speaking up at meetings? What tips do you give other introverts to help them with that?
JG: I’ve had many jobs that required frequent attendance at meetings. Often, even when I was mentally poking holes in my colleagues’ plans, I wouldn’t speak up. Having all those eyes turned toward me, watching me speak, was overstimulating. Today, I still hate speaking up in groups or meetings, but I have learned a few tricks. First, instead of focusing on how you sound, focus on what you’re saying. It won’t matter if you “um” or “ah” or don’t use a chipper tone of voice if the content of your message is valuable. Also, push yourself to be one of the first people to speak up. Psychologically, this will make you feel more a part of the meeting, and people will tend to direct follow up questions to you.
Used with permission, StockUnlimited
NA: What survival skills do you recommend for introverts who work in overstimulating environments?
JG: Take breaks alone. Explain your introversion to your coworkers so they don’t misinterpret your behavior as antisocial or rude. And, if your job consistently leaves you so drained and exhausted that you have little energy left over for other things, consider formulating an escape plan.
NA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JG: The Secret Lives of Introverts is primarily for introverts, but I haven’t left out extroverts — I offer tips for them on how to live with, work with, and love the introverts in their lives.