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How introverts can excel in the workplace

2 min read


Jennifer Kahnweiler, Ph.D., is the author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength and the founder of  AboutYOU, a career and leadership consulting company. Smartbrief recently asked Kahnweiler questions about the challenges and advantages of being an introvert.  An edited version of her responses follows.

Why do introverts often get overlooked in the workplace?

According to my research—a two-and-a-half-year national study— introverts are routinely ignored, overlooked and misunderstood at work. The good news? When introverts confront their key challenges, they can learn to manage them. The top three:

  1. Project overload. Introverts tend to have difficulty saying no and find it equally hard to ask for help or direction. As a result, they frequently feel overloaded with projects and deadlines—hurting their on-the-job performance.
  2. Underselling. Introverts typically stay mum about their accomplishments—seeming to abide by the old Southern adage, “Don’t brag on yourself.” Yet today careers are made or broken by what others know about a person’s skills and potential. Introverts, therefore, regularly miss out simply because they don’t sell themselves.
  3. Failure to “play the game.” Introverts inherently retreat from office politics. Sure, politics can be nasty, but much of the game is natural and necessary, particularly for building relationships up and down an organization. Introverts, with their desire to be low-key, often fail to sniff out important politicking opportunities and wind up watching their extroverted colleagues get ahead.

What are some ways that an introvert can leverage his or her disposition?

Entertainer Victor Borge said, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people.” As an introvert, you can overcome perceptions of being standoffish or too serious by smiling, laughing, and letting your humor come out. Also, ask great questions (being an introvert, you already know how to listen and learn from the answers), use your depth to help engage and connect with people, and show your smarts by contributing earlier in meetings and conference calls.

How can social networks help an introverted person?

Social networking Web sites let your fingers do the talking—allowing you to communicate with people how you want to, when you want to. You can prepare for first-time meetings, send helpful “news you can use” items, and warm up cold leads—all in a low-key, yet friendly way. You can also create an online “brand” that has a wide reach.