Introverts make up slightly more than 51 percent of the population and are still a minority: the last hired and least likely to be promoted at work.
Introvert brains take in more stimulation than do extrovert brains, and they process it through more areas before responding, leaving a time gap that places them at a disadvantage, particularly in group conversations. They are deep-thinking and reflective, and this becomes a drawback in a world where quick responses are highly valued and leadership goes to people who rush forward to take charge.
How do I know this? Because I am an introvert; now I am a public speaker and an advocate for introverts, whom I call the “quietly brilliant,” in the corporate world.
Here I am offering some guidelines to overcome the challenge of living in a culture that believes that there’s something wrong with “quiet” or “cautious.” Look for alternate, positive words to describe behavior we associate with introversion: “observant,” “thoughtful,” “deep thinker,” “attentive,” and” perceptive” come to mind, as well as “good listener.”
To raise a healthy introvert child, avoid the use of the word “shy” as if it were poison. “Quiet” and “shy” are not the same thing; shyness is social anxiety. Furthermore, to call someone “shy” is to suggest the person has a personality flaw rather than a behavior style that simply runs counter to the current popular culture.
If your child hangs back and someone says, “Oh, he’s shy, isn’t he?” respond with: “No, he’s still learning how to meet people,” or “She’s just learning how to ask for what she wants.” Let the child know that this is not a personal flaw but a process of change in which they are participating. Then role play everyday situations, with you taking the role of the child who hangs back while your child plays the more powerful adult — inadvertently learning the skills you want her to learn!
Adult introverts are often saddled with what I call “introvert baggage,” beliefs that aren’t central to introversion, but have become self-protective behavior. We have felt ostracized, so we withdraw — and do the same things to others. Included are such beliefs as, “I can’t socialize because it drains my energy,” and “I don’t like small talk. I only like deep conversations.” These beliefs divide us from other people, including those who can support, admire and even love us.
Any activity you don’t know how to do well is exhausting. Picture a poor swimmer churning and slapping the water, and then picture a skilled swimmer gliding efficiently through the water like a dolphin.
Find friendly people with whom to connect. Try this simple exercise for a week or so: suspend your sense of uniqueness and look for similarities between yourself and others, no matter how small. It could be size, tastes, activities or burdens with which you can relate. If they’re similar to you, how can they be so unapproachable? Teach your children the same behavior so they, too, can build a world in which they feel connected.
Reach out and empathize. Make a simple comment, not too personal but delivered with a smile, that shows you have some idea of what the other person is going through. For the clerk in a store, “It must be tiring lifting and scanning all those items every day.” For the deliveryman, “What a lovely day for an outdoor job,” or “This weather must really make your job harder.” Short contacts, no further interaction required (although you’ll be surprised at how often it triggers conversation).
Practice in these low-risk situations and it will become easier in situations where you really need to meet new people.
Spread your thanks around as if they were fertilizer (because they are). Ditto for compliments.
Park the perfectionism you probably have as an introvert: keep it for serious stuff, such as your income tax return, operating heavy equipment, or doing brain surgery. It doesn’t belong in human relationships. Be forgiving and empathize with little mistakes if they are not too serious.
Thank the person who stops to hold the door open for you, the driver who pauses to let you enter a line of traffic, the clerk who discovers you didn’t take your change or points out an even greater bargain than what you have selected, and the person who asks about your recent health issue — for all of these people deserve thanks for their consideration.
Try thanking a co-worker who completes a routine job for which he or she is paid. You may believe it’s simply their duty, but anyone can become fatigued doing their duty day after day and being taken for granted.
What a pity that people are saddled with beliefs that almost guarantee their talents will go unrecognized. Socialization is the process by which we meet and connect with important people who further our lives and appreciate our gifts; not to socialize is to be isolated. And conversation — which starts with small talk — is the mechanism through which we connect.
You don’t have to be a charismatic, attention-drawing extrovert to have power in the world. You just have to remember these words from Maya Angelou: “People forget what you said and what you did. They never forget how you make them feel.”