Vera: Who exactly is an introvert and why do you focus on working with this personality type?
Dorothy: An introvert is defined as a person who is energized by “internally” focused things like thinking, working alone on a project or listening to music. I focus on this personality not only because I am one but also because I’ve had to develop solutions to the demands of being a growing professional. I found that other people have also found my approaches valuable. Also, Introverts aren’t the cultural norm in the US and many other countries. This means that the entire culture tends to think a good or normal person has extroverted traits. This means there is an expectation that an introvert should act in ways that run contrary to their personality. It’s awkward and often uncomfortable. This sets up an introvert to be at a disadvantage especially professionally. That’s where I come in to help them understand their personality and to have some adaptive strategies to help them achieve their career goals.
Vera: What are you seeing as some of the big challenges introverts have to deal with?
Dorothy: The natural tendency of an introvert is to speak only for a reason or purpose and prefers to listen and process. Their challenges stem from those things. It shows up with things like limiting relationship development, not speaking up in meetings and not self-promoting. Introverts tend to feel ignored and over-looked because of that and it’s not their imagination – it really is what’s going on. Being ignored is not a career enhancing condition and if an introvert has ambitions, the two things are in conflict. You can’t be ignored and get ahead professionally or at least not at an appropriate speed.
Vera: Research suggests that Extroverts are more likely to get ahead than introverts. What are some of the things that put introverts at a disadvantage?
Dorothy: Introverts tend to be fairly quiet; especially in group settings while their extrovert co-workers are the center of attention. It can be very exhausting to an introvert to simply be in a setting like that and trying to battle for attention is difficult at best and sometimes impossible. An introvert can have a few strategies to help: first- plan ahead by speaking to some of the people who will be in the meeting about the topics. It makes inclusion easier when the meeting occurs. Secondly, do things prior to a group gathering to build up energy like working on a project alone; do the same thing after. Thirdly, during the event treat it like running a marathon where you expend all your energy by speaking and actively injecting into the conversation knowing you have recovery time afterward.
Vera: What are some of the strengths that introverts can draw on to be competitive and give themselves equal chance and opportunity?
Dorothy: Introverts prefer to build relationships in a one on one setting. This can be very powerful because they get to know the other person in a deeper way. Relationships are the key to influence and decision making which puts an Introvert at an advantage – as long as they do spend the time making the relationships. Another tremendous asset is their ability to focus on their work. This can also be a disadvantage if we don’t balance it developing relationships or observing the group dynamics. Lastly, introverts have listening down to an art form!
Vera: What can workplaces do to create a more inclusive environment for introverts?
Dorothy: A leader of any endeavor should specifically facilitate group settings to seek balance. This means they need to draw the introvert into the discussion and may need to subdue the louder members. Also, they may need to specifically ask an Introvert to supply information and updates on their work on a routine basis. It’s not something introverts may think about doing until the need is outlined. Also, a leader needs to realize that casual after-work events like going to a bar or throwing a party is not an Introverts idea of a good time. It doesn’t mean they aren’t social; they are, it’s just they aren’t social in a group setting and/or where there is no specific outcome. If a leader sees a person in the group avoiding or not attending, they could adjust the activities a bit to include something structured.
Vera: Whilst organizations can make the case for employees to be more ‘’social’’ is there a risk that this can become somewhat intrusive especially for introverts?
Dorothy: I would hope that a leader would recognize that putting a demand on a group to be more social will be asking some people to do things they may not be very skilled at doing. The problem with this situation is that most businesses lack insight on the need to train in “soft skills” like being social and effectively interacting with others. It’s emotional intelligence and it can be trained but is usually considered too fuzzy to make a good business case for spending the money on.
Vera: One of your terminologies ‘’Quiet power’’ is a very attractive proposition. How does the introvert positively handle office politics and build the strategic relationships that will help their professional advancement?
Dorothy: One at a time. Office politics is all about how get decisions get made. In a business setting, the decisions will always get made in favor of the people who have the relationships with the decision maker. Some people think this is unethical but it’s not if you think about it for a minute. If you are going to give someone a project, will you give it to someone you know can do the job or give it to someone you barely know much less how well they do things? Or if they understand your priorities? That means it’s a necessity to develop strategic relationships all the time. Since Introverts prefer to develop relationships one at a time, they have the ability to know another person at a deeper level. That deeper level creates more trust and influence which always enhances your career and makes them a better contributor to positive Office Politics. My skill building programs are called “Quiet Power University” because all Introverts possess the power to do anything they want, if they have the skills AND they don’t have to turn into an extrovert to do so.
Vera: You yourself had to transcend your ‘’introversion’’ to get to where you are. How did you achieve that?
Dorothy: The key for others and me is to learn behaviors and skills that they can use in specific situations. We learn “adaptation skills” as we progress through life. Some people learn to adapt faster, others slower. My job is to help speed up the process for my clients through insight and learning behaviors tailored to Introverts and to adapt to different situations. It doesn’t mean they have to change who you are, it means they behave in that situation in a way that is most effective.
Vera: From your personal experience and your work, how would you say an introvert can thrive in their career without feeling they have to change their personality?
Dorothy: All Introverts need to understand that all issues and challenges they have in achieving their goals have solutions. They have to be willing to pursue solutions and take action with what they find.
Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is a Leadership & Career Coach. She is author of two bestselling books – ‘’Career Mapping for Introverts and the Socially Reluctant’’ and ‘’Easier Networking for Introverts and the Socially Reluctant’’. Known as the Introvert Whisperer, Dorothy helps people discover their professional potential and what it takes to get promoted. She has deep knowledge on management/career development, human interaction and organization dynamics forged by 21 years of Management at Intel and 6 years as a Leadership Coach. Dorothy has lead 100’s of people to become impressive leaders internationally. To see more of what Dorothy writes: www.introvertwhisperer.com
For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.