I’ve admired introverts for as long as I can remember. While my siblings seemed content in quiet or on their own as kids, I was constantly seeking stimulation. Crowds. People to connect with or attempt to entertain. Stillness to me equalled boredom and that was something I simply couldn’t bear.
If you fall on the introverted end of the spectrum, you might be rolling your eyes—and I don’t blame you. Stigma regarding introversion persists in our loud, fast-paced culture. Introverted kids are encouraged to “get out of their shells.” Their preference to energize alone and avoid the limelight or extensive interaction are too often perceived as unhealthy, stunted or even pathological. Even as adults, introverts can be seen as rude or as lacking leadership qualities. But being good at parties doesn’t always translate to being good at business. As an extrovert in a field of introverts, I can tell you that introverts have not only made me a better person, but a better colleague. Here are four of the most powerful lessons extroverts can learn from introverts in the workplace:
The notion that extroverts don’t care about others is a myth, but since we tend to prize talking, listening well may not come as naturally. “Introverts are often great listeners and extroverts can also learn from them how to improve this vital skill,” said psychotherapist Jennifer Rollin. “Extroverts can put aside what might be a natural inclination to lead or greatly contribute to the conversation and instead really take a moment to absorb what the other individual is saying.” Rather than focusing on what we’d like to say next during meetings, extroverts can listen more, allowing others to weigh in. We can ask questions, aim to keep our words down to 20 to 25 percent of any discussion and keep our phones on silent to really hone in.
Years ago while working on a college paper, I interviewed my sister, Kelly, about our childhood. Kelly and I are closest in age in my family, and as kids, I did most of the talking. When inquiring about shared upbringing, I was blown away by her thoughtfulness. She was a virtual library of awareness and reflection. Why hadn’t I asked her these questions before? As Susan Cain writes in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, “there's zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” Not sure how to move forward or resolve a conflict in your workplace? Introverts produce some of the greatest epiphanies and insights. Revealing may take some time or prompting, but introverts’ ability to soak up and keenly observe their surroundings make them adept responders. Since they aren’t often the first to raise a hand or offer unsolicited advice, it’s wise for extroverts to ask questions.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2012 showed that introverts typically have thicker, larger gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with decision-making and abstract thought. Lead researcher Randy Bucker concluded that this may be why introverts tend to take time to ponder before making decisions; whereas extroverts take quicker leaps. While there are pros and cons to both tendencies, I imagine most extroverts could stand to pause a bit longer before taking risks. Thinking more before making significant business decisions can go a long way toward preserved sanity and upping our odds of success.
No matter what your personality, time away from the hustle-bustle of the world brings benefits. Meditation, the queen bee of stillness, may come more easily to introverts—but that doesn’t make it less useful for the rest of us. Research conducted at Harvard showed that routine meditation increases grey-matter density in the hippocampus, the brain area associated with learning, memory, self-awareness and compassion. Other research shows that routine meditation may boost work performance, job satisfaction and engagement. If meditating seems daunting, start with a few minutes per day (Try Take10 in the Headspace app), or consider walking meditations. Cut away distractions, such as your phone, laptop and TV, on occasion. Take up yoga or spend time at a library, where you can have stillness and company simultaneously. No matter where you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, respecting your own and others’ needs and preferences matters. Introverts may take more heat when it comes to expectations to change or find their way out of their “shells,” but we can all benefit from our differences if we accept them. “Even though there are huge differences between these two personalities, I have seen how they can greatly benefit each other in relationships,” said Esther Kane, a psychotherapist specializing in helping introverts thrive. “I believe the key is for each person to know and acknowledge their own personality, as well as the other person’s, and do their best to work with what is there.”
No matter where you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, respecting your own and others’ needs and preferences matters.