I’m an introvert. I know this will surprise some of you—lots of people exclaim, “NO!” when I say that—but it’s true.
When I was a kid, I was so shy that my mom would make me call to order pizza so I was forced to talk to someone. I did not enjoy that and quickly realized I could bully my siblings into doing it for me.
To this day, I still hate to use the phone. The internet has been wonderful for me. I don’t have to speak to a single soul if I want to order pizza—or anything else, for that matter.
My entire life has been filled with adults telling me how to behave. Speak up in class. Speak up in meetings. Participate in discussions. Insert yourself into conversations. Meet new people. Go to this event. Go over and talk to that group of people. Blah.
For a long time (a good majority of my life), I felt like being me wasn’t enough. As if I had to be someone else—an extroverted version of myself.
It wasn’t until Susan Cain wrote Quiet that I felt seen. Since then, I’ve become much more comfortable in my skin (age helps with that, too) and I know that one of my superpowers is listening—really listening—and not feeling the need to speak or to fill the silence.
It turns out, there is great power in the quiet people in meetings. In leaders who are introverted. In those who do versus talk. The non-power grabbers. The doers versus the talkers. The people who pay such close attention to what was said that it makes them seem like their memories never end.
The world needs the yin and yang—and the quiet people, the introverts, are necessary for it to continue revolving around its axis.
The Quiet Colleagues Provide Great Value
Several years ago, I attended a workshop by Mark Wiskup, a communications expert. One of the things he talked about was how, as leaders, important it was to provide time to all of our team, especially during meetings and brainstorming sessions.
He was a fantastic speaker and facilitator. After he spent the first hour teaching, he split us into groups so we could brainstorm and find solutions that would work in our individual businesses. As he listened to each group, he would jot down some notes and move on to the next.
As I am wont to do, in my group, I listened, took some notes, and listened some more.
When we moved back to the larger group, he asked for feedback and some of the ideas each group came up with. The more extroverted people were eager to share their ideas—and he let them. And then he said, “And, Gini, what do you think?”
I had a couple of pages of notes and I provided some ideas. I didn’t think they were extraordinary ideas, but because I had spent the time listening to my group versus throwing out ideas and talking the entire time, I was able to codify much of what they were saying into workable ideas.
Mark used me as an example. He said, “Just because members of your team are quiet doesn’t mean they don’t have great value to add.”
He then went on to explain how to get the best out of all of your team without forcing the introverts to be loud and talkative.
It was a game-changer for me. Another time I felt seen.
Introverts are Fantastic Leaders, Too
And it turns out, it’s not just extroverts who are the best leaders. Introverts can be fantastic leaders, too.
Sure, extroverts are typically better liked (story of my life with my husband and me) and are not afraid to talk to anyone and work well in teams.
And introverts are better at some things, too. We tend to put people first and we create open environments. We also know the importance of shutting up and listening. Not listening to respond, but to listen.
I have a colleague who is a former journalist. She says to me all the time, “If news taught me anything it’s that people talk too much.”
I use her in media training when we teach clients how to talk in soundbites. But, as you know, it takes more than one training to get across to people. After media training, when we’re in meetings and someone is going on and on and on, she’ll say, “And cut!” when it’s time for them to stop talking.
She’ll then explain why what they said previous to her interruption is the perfect soundbite and they don’t have to continue talking. It takes lots and lots of practice and sometimes seems impossible for some, but talking in soundbites is the perfect practice for both media interviews and working with your team.
Introverts Actually Listen
There is a saying that people either listen to respond or they actually listen. Learn how to do the latter. If you are listening to respond, which we are all guilty of doing, you’re not actually listening.
One of my tricks is to take notes. All over my notebook (which used to be a good old-fashioned notebook and then I gifted myself a Remarkable for my birthday this year… life-changing!), you’ll find notes that in a larger context make no sense. The point of those notes is to continue listening, not forgetting where the conversation needs to go next.
That allows you to listen, not to respond, but to listen. This trick works really well in interviews. I love to use open-ended questions, “Tell me how you handle measuring your brand awareness work in your current job.” And then I let them talk.
As they talk, I jot down things they’ve said that I want to return to, but I generally don’t say a word. I just let them talk.
Introverts Gather Views and Insights
I had an interview a few weeks ago where the person literally did not stop talking for 26 minutes. I didn’t get to ask them another question because they filled my silence. And I learned so much! Probably more than they wanted me to; they even told me personal tidbits during that 26-minute monologue. And I didn’t say a word until the very end of our 30-minute meeting.
Introverts are also really good at gathering the views and insights of others to solve problems. This approach can sometimes seem like it’s taking FOREVER, but the truth of the matter is, because they’ve taken the time to listen to what the collective group wants, the solution is (typically) workable.
This approach is unique to introverts, but extroverts can also learn how to do it. Listen to the views of your team, ask questions, and ensure you are clear on what your colleagues are telling you. This allows you to put your people first and build collaborative relationships.
Introverts Create Open Environments
And the last thing introverts are great at that extroverts can learn how to do is creating open environments.
At my very first job as a freshly graduated professional, there was a woman on my team who sat in a corner and wrote all day. It literally was a corner. She would come in every morning, smile at everyone, walk to her corner, sit down, and start to write. She was perfectly content to do that all day, every day.
I remember one day going into the office and there was a brand new, beautiful lamp at her desk with a bow on it. The GM of our office had bought it for her because he knew she would love it, but he also knew that making a big deal out of giving it to her would have sent her into her shell.
Though she came to meetings and never said a word—and she certainly didn’t enjoy the weekly all-staff meetings where employees were celebrated—she was the smartest person I knew. When you read something she wrote, it would blow your mind. So smart. So well-constructed. So poignant.
But the point is that our GM knew what kind of environment was perfect for her so that he could get the best work out of her. It was not to put her in a cubicle surrounded by loud and young professionals. It was to put her in a corner with beautiful lighting and some plants, where she could have peace and quiet to think.
Introverts Know How to Get the Best
Take time to learn how your colleagues will perform best—and create that environment for them. Some people will want a dark corner while others love the appeal of a loud boiler room. And what they prefer—or how they perform best—is not dependent on being an extrovert or introvert.
Learn what works best for each individual by actually listening to them.