Business has a habit of assigning privilege to "extrovert" traits, like being assertive, talkative and highly social. And that's not right.
In fact, the misconception persists that extroverts make better leaders than introverts, and this plays out in hiring decisions. For example, there are many more extroverted CEOs than introverted ones.
In spite of this bias, which affects hiring and promotions, research suggests that introverts actually possess a number of qualities that can rocket them to the top of their fields. Just ask introverted icons such as Angie Hicks (the founder of Angie’s List), Bill Gates, Candice Bergen, George Stephanopoulos, Marissa Mayer, Steve Wozniak, Warren Buffet and President Barack Obama.
Also look to a study that found that companies led by introverted CEOs tend to perform better than companies headed by extroverts. The conclusion here must be that the belief that “Extroverts are top performers; introverts are not” simply doesn’t add up.
Introversion isn’t defined by the failure to be extroverted. It’s characterized by the possession of certain traits that can come in handy in any industry. Here’s how thinking like an introvert can help you get ahead in business.
Introverts tend to be more inclined toward in-depth research, reflection and deep thinking than their extroverted counterparts. This tends to translate into greater preparation, for everything from staff meetings and business presentations to client meetings.
Maintaining the habit of being prepared for every work-related function you attend will ensure you’re able to provide a detailed and thoughtful perspective. This means you'll always put your best foot forward in front of managers and clients. And that's important for your professional reputation.
Be a team player.
This might seem counterintuitive: After all, it's logical to conclude that socially-oriented extroverts make the best team players. In actuality, research has found that introverts perform better in team environments because they tend to be more collaborative than their extroverted peers.
Collaboration, in turn, can boost innovative thinking and problem-solving. When you’re a positive and active part of a team (especially one responsible for generating innovative ideas), you’re going to attract attention from higher-ups.
There’s a reason so many resumes say something along the lines of “works well independently, and in groups.” It’s because employers value team members who can perform well on the job in a variety of settings and scenarios.
Because they value periods of quiet and solitude, introverts tend to be comfortable working and thinking independently. Not only does this quality appeal to employers, it can also provide an individual the opportunity to develop a fresh perspective. (Bill Gates credits many of his own ideas to his introversion and his subsequent propensity to spend a lot of time thinking deeply on his own.)
Independent thinking can result in innovative ideas that help get you noticed.
Introverts tend to be better listeners and observers than extroverts. Listening closely conveys respect and allows introverts to reply thoughtfully to clients, customers, managers and peers. This can build trust and strengthen these relationships.
Additionally, listening closely can improve your ability to absorb knowledge and develop key insights regarding your workplace or industry. This helps explain why introverts tend to be adept problem-solvers and decision-makers: They absorb a wide spectrum of information before arriving to an informed conclusion. To cultivate these same skills, work on improving your listening and observational habits.
Think before you speak.
Introverts tend to gather as many observations as possible before contributing ideas. In the same vein, they spend a lot of time reflecting before weighing in on a given topic. While this is sometimes maligned as a propensity for over-analysis, it’s actually an asset in the world of work. It helps prevent impulsive decision-making and reduces the risk of the individual saying something he or she will later regret.
While it can be tempting to weigh in as soon as you’ve had a relevant thought (especially in group meetings), taking the time to carefully consider your contribution will help you establish yourself as a consistent source of well-thought-out ideas.
Grow your network.
Introverts tend to prefer cultivating deep and meaningful relationships to having a large number of casual acquaintances. This might mean they’re more likely to get stressed by a flurry of business trips or less likely to make hundreds of connections on LinkedIn.
But it can also play in their favor. Developing meaningful relationships with the right people can help catapult a career. So, rather than hoarding as many business cards as you’re able, focus instead on identifying a few key players who might be able to help you advance your career. Then, take the time to really get to know and establish strong rapport with those people. When it comes to finding a mentor or contact who will be invested in your professional growth, quality trumps quantity.
These days, companies of all types and sizes place a big emphasis on innovation. And introverts tend to possess this quality in spades. Studies have found that across industries, the most creative people are likely to be introverts. The various traits outlined above -- from observing closely to thinking deeply -- all facilitate creative thought.
This helps explain why introverts may be the members of a team most likely to come up with innovative ideas or solutions to various problems. To cultivate this ability for yourself, spend more time engaging with the world of ideas you have circulating in your own head.
Want to stand out in the workplace, develop meaningful career connections and cultivate innovative ideas that get you noticed at work, or spark the idea for a new business? Then it’s time to think like an introvert. And, if you already are one, it’s time to start celebrating the traits that can help you get ahead in any industry.