Monday, December 26, 2011

Introverts: Rise Up and Leverage Your Strengths

Back in January 2010, nearly two years ago, I wrote a post entitled "Workplace Challenges Being An Introvert".  Since that post, I have received emails from around the world from fellow introverts.  Here's what they wrote:
  • I'm facing the possibility of being fired for this very issue.  I'm somewhat dumbfounded.  On one hand I'm being told I'm doing a good job but on the other that I don't come across as a "team player".  It's awful.
  • I have built a successful business and I really care about my people.  Yet there are many who think I am cold, impersonal, distant, uncaring.  Look, I am just quiet by nature and I don't say much.  What am I supposed to do?  How do I show them I really do care?
  • Since I am not talkative with an outgoing personality, I am not seen as a leader.  As a result, I am feeling stuck where I am.  What do I do?
  • I find myself uncomfortable talking in groups.  I have seen many who are open and don't feel shy.  Organizations consider them more talented.
  • My year-end reviews usually start out with how talented I am but end up with how I need to engage more.
  • I've been able to function at a pretty high level, but that's only gotten me promoted to a job that requires cold calls.  I can't see a way to get around it.  Can you offer guidance to make these as painless as possible?  It's fear of rejection that holds me back.  And being an introvert, I wonder if I can really succeed at this?
  • I am an introvert and I know my stuff.  But part of my role requires me to sell, which I am very uncomfortable doing.  Should I just find another job?  I mean, can I really sell since I am not one of those outgoing types?
    Look my fellow introverts, I understand what you are going through for I am one of you.  I live where you live, face what you face, and I know what it's like.  To quote a famous line by US President Bill Clinton, "I feel your pain".

    With that said, have faith and know that you are not alone and that you have so much to offer.  If my experience serves as an example, I know you can succeed as an introvert, not in spite of it but because of it.  To do that, you just need to recognize, accept, and leverage your strengths.  Here are some which I am confident you possess, as well as ways you can leverage them:
    • Expertise: You have innate ability to focus intensely on a subject, allowing you to go deep into it, master it, and internalize it.  Therefore, continue to learn and strive to become THE best at what you do, which I am confident you do now already.  You want to become, and will in due time by following what I am going to share here, the go-to-person for your expertise.  This is a great place to be and it's one of the ways introverts can shine.
    • Share Your Expertise:  Deriving benefits from your expertise occurs when you share it with others.  Therefore, while as an introvert you may not prefer to talk much, you can I am sure write, which comes naturally to many of us introverts.  I know I can spend hours on my laptop and totally love every moment of it, just like I am doing right now.  Therefore, freely share your expertise by blogging, writing and publishing articles, books, manuscripts, contributing on various discussion groups.  I do just this.  To get an idea of how I do this, read my post Association Membership: An Introverts Best Friend.  
    • Ask Questions: Given your expertise in your subject matter, you are well positioned to ask intelligent, probing, thoughtful questions.  This is what I do mostly.  It comes naturally to me and I really enjoy it for by asking questions, I don't have to talk much, I am constantly learning, AND people get the impression I am a great conversationalist.  Frankly, all I do is mostly ask broad open-ended questions, sit back and listen, and continue to move the conversations forward.  
    • Self-Improvement: For those who tell you you're not engaged and that you're not a team player, ask them these types of questions:  What am I doing, or not doing, that gives the impression I am not engaged, am not a team player?  What would I need to do and say differently that would demonstrate I am?  Probe.  Ask questions.  Subtly challenge their thinking.  Then apply what you learn to yourself (more on this later in this post).  Try it.  One important point here to note though.  Do this not to prove others wrong.  Instead ask from the point of view of having a sincere desire to  learn and improve.  To do this, you'll need to ask questions to find out how you're being perceived and what you need to do differently.  If you ask, they'll tell you.  For in the end, we can only change ourselves, not others.
        • Listen: Connected to your asking questions, leverage your listening skills.  In fact, being an introvert, you probably don't listen only with your ears, you listen with your whole body.  For good listening isn't about just capturing words.  It also involves being comfortable with silence and quietly paying attention to factors such as body language, picking up emotions, tones, the spoken AND unspoken, to name just a few.  Therefore, as an introvert, since you are not busy running your mouth, you can actually hear much more then what is said.  By doing so, you can capture very detailed and very valuable information and insights that can help you and your organization.  In addition, keep in mind that most people don't feel truly heard and they are dying to be understood, to be heard. You can give them that precious gift.  By doing so, people will begin to actually reach out to you.
        Having said the above, there are times where you still have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  By doing so, day by day, with practice your comfort zone will become bigger.  In my own case, when I now attend gatherings, people are often surprised when they learn I'm an introvert.  What they don't see is that I have to muster up my inner strength and self-confidence in such settings and push myself. It's not always easy but it's doable. So if I can do it, so can you.  To get more tips on pushing yourself, read my post Public Speaking for Introverts.

        In the end, know that at each moment, you have a choice.  You can continue to let your introverted nature hold you back, keeping you where you are.  Or you can choose to push yourself forward, and leverage your immense strengths, your talents, your God given gifts, that are inherent to being an introvert.  If you choose the former path, and please allow me to be direct here, you are being a victim. If you choose the later however, you are choosing to be powerful.  Which path will you choose?  And yes, you do have a choice.

        Having said all this, start with applying what I have shared here and then please follow back and share with me what you have experienced.  Now go out and make this coming year a great year for you.  I know you can do it.  And along the way, should you have any questions or if want to talk, feel free to reach out to me.  I am here for you.

        In closing, let me leave you with this: Given what I have shared here, what's the one thing you will do differently going forward?  Once you have answered this, go out and do it. For in the end, it's only action that moves us forward.

        All the best to you!

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