An Introvert’s Guide To World Domination
Since Carl Jung came up with the terms ‘extroversion’ and ‘introversion’ in the 1920s, the words have been thrown around in personality tests like confetti. But introverts are still sadly misunderstood in a world that’s becoming increasingly loud and self-promoting (social media, anyone?)
Depending on which study you look at, up to half of the population are introverts but it often feels like a lot less, because they’re not shoving their quiet, reflective selves down other people’s throats.
As someone who once scored a 10 (out of 10) for introversion, it can be exhausting to live in a society where ‘outgoing’ and ‘spontaneous’ are synonymous with ‘fun’ and only the loudest person is heard. So how can we introverts survive in a world with open-plan offices, where class participation gets you higher marks and networking is an imperative?
Understand that introversion isn’t a flaw
Some people use ‘shy’, ‘awkward’ and ‘introverted’ interchangeably. Buy them a dictionary. Yes, introverts may be shy, and people who aren’t good at chit-chat may be introverts but these words aren’t synonymous and these characteristics aren’t flaws. They simply make it more challenging to interact in today’s social settings.
Introversion is defined by how you react to stimuli, be it other people, loud music or your surroundings (introverts find them overwhelming after a while) and how you recharge (introverts energise by being alone). Importantly, no one is purely extroverted or introverted; rather, everyone falls somewhere on the scale.
Know your strengths and use them
OK, we know what we’re not good at – being in a room full of strangers for a whole evening – but it’s time to focus on what we do well. According to one study, introverts are more persistent when faced with a problem, plan things thoroughly and may even make better managers.
How does this translate to real life? Well, some careers are more suited to your working style. But if you’re a salesperson, for example, a role often associated with outgoing and assertive personalities, being an introvert can still be beneficial; your ability to listen to your customers’ needs and provide solutions will be an asset. In a leadership position, being able to reflect and think long-term means you’ll succeed where the more impulsive extroverts might fail. Introverts have traits that are advantageous in all sorts of situations; the key is to bring them to the fore.
Socialise on your terms
In an ideal world, introverts would only get interrupted when they’re expecting it (which is never – we hate being interrupted). However, in the modern office where we need to take interactions as they come, we can still wrest some control over how and when we communicate. If you prefer emails over phone calls, let your client or colleague know you’ll be following up with an email (so that everything’s confirmed in writing, of course). Need to schedule a meeting? Book it for when you’re most energised – not half an hour before heading home, when you’re already thinking of that vino and book on the couch.
For a catch-up with groups of friends, offer to organise it. Do not let the most extroverted person in your group do it, who’ll turn your vision of a cosy get-together into a raging disco dance extravaganza where everyone and his uncle are invited. Better yet, if you really don’t like group situations, meet up one-on-one. More quality time, less over-stimulation. Win-win.
Introverts aren’t known for being spontaneous. Science has shown that we have a thicker prefrontal cortex, responsible for making decisions, recall and complex thought – things that we do better without distractions. That’s why we tend to keep quiet in brainstorming sessions or freeze if we’re asked to give an impromptu speech. To get around this, do what you do best – plan ahead.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare, write and consider your responses. While we may admire extroverts who can wing it and who thrive under the pressure of attention, there’s no shame in admitting we’re not like them. If you get wind of a situation where you might be asked your opinion, come up with answers to possible questions and pretend you made them up on the spot.
When I travel, I’ve been known to come up with Plan A, Plan B… all the way up to E. It gives the illusion of spontaneity because I appear unfazed by whatever happens but secretly it’s because I’ve already taken into account the unpredictability of travel and made plans accordingly.
Learn to network
It’s time to talk about the N word. Networking can be anathema to introverts. It sounds pushy, self-motivated and just plain fake. But it doesn’t have to be – some people I’ve networked with have become friends while I’ve exchanged valuable skills with others. I’ve found that thinking of it as a friendship with benefits makes me more open to the idea than thinking of the person as a means to an end.
Luckily, with digital media, it’s easier than ever to approach networking in a non-confronting way. Follow people on Twitter and start conversations there; ask for an introduction from a mutual friend via LinkedIn or Facebook; join online groups dedicated to your interests or career. When these leads develop into a face-to-face meeting, you’ll feel a connection to these people already, taking away the stress of making small talk.
If, however, you’re forced into a networking situation with strangers, it’s time to channel the extroverted part of yourself (remember, we all have it, however small) and amplify it. Ignore what makes you uncomfortable – being in a group of unfamiliar faces, talking about yourself – and focus on what you love about socialising, such as having interesting conversations, learning something new and meeting a kindred soul. And never forget what makes introverts great networkers as well: our listening skills, our considered responses and our disinterest in schmoozing.
The key to being your introverted self is to get know yourself really well so you can play to your strengths.
Catherine Mah is an editor and writer based in Sydney, but she’s lived in Spain, Taiwan and Brazil. She’s written for publications like AWOL and The Guardian Australia, but secretly dreams of creating bizarre flavours of ice cream as a full-time job.