Monday, July 11, 2011

The Introvert Challenge

It is no coincidence that many of my clients are Introverted by nature.  Most of my practice is centered within North America, a place in which many Introverts find themselves struggling with trying to fit in and be recognised in working environments that predominantly recognise and reward Extroverted behaviour.  As life here in North America becomes more competitive and fast-paced, with the growing emphasis on the need to be a 'team' rather than an 'individual' contributor, Introverts today are facing more challenges than ever before.  Is it any wonder then that more of them are turning to coaches for help and direction?

It's interesting though, that different cultures have different styles, some of which value Introversion for its many strengths.  Individualism, more characteristic of direct, fast-paced communication (such as that found in the US and Germany) is more closely aligned with Extroversion, whereas Collectivistic societies (such as those found in East Asia) are more aligned with the characteristics of Introversion.

Despite the emphasis on Extroversion in North American society, Introverts make up 50 percent of the population.  Interesting then, to consider that most Introverts feel they are in the minority and that it is important, if not critical, to their careers to adopt more Extroverted tendencies.  Much of the work of coaches, such as myself, tend to be focused on helping Introverts to not just recognise but to capitalize on the strengths they bring to the table;  helping them to develop strategic and comfortable ways to promote themselves and those abilities.

Some quick thoughts and tips for Introverts to consider, that even you Extroverts may benefit from...
  • Email can be a great communication tool for Introverts, providing them with the time they need to fully formulate their thoughts before sharing, and a communication forum that is comfortable.  Consider using this as a strategic way of sharing your thoughts and insights, not just as a tool for arranging a meeting time.
  • The longer a meeting goes on, the more thoughts and information an Introvert has taken in and is processing.  As a result, they are less likely to be vocal.  Instead, consider speaking up early in meetings.  Your thoughts will be cleaner and more direct and you will have demonstrated already, to those present, your willingness to contribute. 
  • Introverts are not likely to be the most vocal person around the table.  Therefore, when you do decide to share something, it is important that you say it in a voice that makes it easy for others to hear you.  It is worth investing some effort in using audiotape to cultivate a voice (strength, variability, volume) that helps convey your message.  You may not speak often, but you do want to speak in a way that lets your audience know that you are worth listening to.
  • Posture can also make a big difference.  Introverts will often shift their mental focus internally, in order to process new information.  As they do, their body positioning and posture tend to also shift and change.  Typically, the head and eye contact will drop, shoulders may round forward... all of which serves to soften the overall posture and presence of the individual.  Instead, work to maintain an upright posture, shoulders back, head up and eyes forward.  Even when not speaking you can still convey to others that you are confident and comfortable.

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