I. Every Weakness is a Strength
Whether it’s for self-improvement and self-acceptance, or to optimize employee satisfaction and productivity in your company, people have come to realize that different personality types require different environments and habits to function optimally. One of the traits under investigation lately is the extroversion-introversion axis.
You’ve probably heard a lot about this axis already and know that the main dividing characteristic between extroverts and introverts is that one likes to hang around with other people, while the other prefers to stay at home with their cat. What important career development tool requires hanging around with people? Networking!
If you find networking difficult, you may be in the staying-home-with-cat camp. Perhaps you’ve thought to yourself that if only you tried harder, networking would be easier. Or else you’ve decided you’re simply not designed for networking and have decried it altogether. But everyone is always telling you that the most important part of the job search is Networking, Networking, Networking! How are you EVER going to get a job??
Don’t worry. This short blog series will delve deeper into your introverted nature and provide some tips and strategies to make networking work for you.
On the spectrum
First, it’s important to remember that almost nothing in biology is binary. People don’t neatly divide into two camps, introvert or extrovert. Just like height or hair color, you can fall anywhere along the introversion-to-extroversion spectrum. While some people identify strongly with one of the extremes, others (sometimes called centroverts or ambiverts) belong somewhere in the middle. Some people might exhibit behaviors that seem extroverted or introverted, but don’t feel that they belong to that group at all. While you read this guide, try to identify which traits apply to you and which don’t. Even if you don’t entirely identify as an introvert, some of the advice could still be useful to you.
If you are an introvert, you might have felt like you are in the minority or somehow deficient compared to all the extroverts that you see around you. But that’s just because extroverts are loud and obnoxious* and hard to overlook. It turns out, though, that the distribution is pretty evenly split (according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator).
- 30% introverts
- 40% in the middle
- 30% extroverts
Your fellow introverts are all around you, you just might not see or hear them as much.
(*I was kidding about all extroverts being obnoxious. If you’d like to read more about common misconceptions about introverts and extroverts, check out the resources below.)
A double-sided coin
The second important thing to remember is that, when it comes to personality traits, every strength is a weakness, and every weakness is a strength. Everything that you think you do well, comes at the expense of something else.
Example: I’m good at striking compromises, listening to other people’s opinions and needs and finding a middle ground. But this means that I’m not very good at being assertive or pushing for my ideas over someone else’s.
Conversely, anything that you think you are bad at reveals a hidden strength.
Example: I’m usually very quiet during group conversations or meetings. However, this makes me a careful listener and attentive learner.
Intro vs. Extro
Borrowing terminology from Devora Zack’s book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking, the main general characteristics of introverts and extroverts can be summarized in three words. Let’s see how these characteristics confer strengths and weaknesses to each type.
Reflective vs. Verbal
Reflective: think to talk, inner directed, focus on thoughts and ideas
Verbal: talk to think, outer directed, focus on people and events
Extroverts are known for being chatty, while introverts are typically quiet. Make no mistake, however, introverts can become very talkative once you get to know them better.
The strength of the extroverts is that they engage easily in conversation, especially spontaneously and with strangers. This allows them to create a wide network of acquaintances. Their downfall however is in the follow-up, preferring in-the-moment interactions to forming in-depth relationships after the fact.
As an introvert, I have a harder time with spontaneous conversations and small talk. While extroverts often begin talking in order to work out their thought process, introverts usually think through their answer before replying. An introvert might seem more quiet and slow paced, but their contributions to the conversation are usually intelligent and meaningful. Also, since the introverts aren’t constantly talking, this makes them good and observant listeners, and able to pick up on more non-verbal cues.
Focused vs. Expansive
Focused: go deep, enjoy few stimuli, need concentration
Expansive: go wide, enjoy simultaneous stimuli, need diversion
Along with having a wide base of acquaintances, extroverts typically have a wide range of interests. Extrovert are likely to show interest in a wide variety of subjects and tend to switch easily to new projects and to try out new ideas. They are also more likely to multi-task, to talk, or to listen to music while working. However, this need for constant stimulation can become a nuisance to other people.
By contrast, I prefer a quiet work environment and sometimes migrate to the library when the extroverts around me get too chatty. Being very focused makes you an efficient worker, but it can also make it difficult to deal with interruptions or to be productive in a disruptive setting. Like many introverts, I usually focus on one task and concentrate on only a few deep interests. Unlike extroverts, introverts tend to be more cautious about jumping into a new project or idea.
Self-reliant vs. Social
Self-reliant: energize alone, prefer one-on-one discussion, value privacy
Social: energize with others, prefer group discussion, value public sharing
Perhaps the first image you think of when you hear “extrovert” is a person partying. Anyone talking about extroverts will tell you that an extrovert “energizes with others.” They do very well with group activities and teamwork, and are at ease in a crowded room. However, they need to be careful with their personal boundaries, since extroverts have a tendency to over-share personal information in ways that can seem inappropriate to others.
Introverts are said to “energize alone.” Although you may occasionally find me at a party, I tend to feel more relaxed during a quiet night at home. Large group gatherings, and especially small-talk, can feel particularly draining. I usually find myself on the sidelines, listening in on the animated discussion of the other members. An introvert’s strength lies in one-on-one conversations, especially if given some time to prepare, or at least a heads-up to get into the conversation zone. An introvert is less likely to connect with many people, but more likely to forge a deeper connection with a small number of individuals.
Playing to your strengths
To my dear introverts who thought your personality would make you less successful than your extroverted peers: look at the amazing skills you have! You’re probably very focused, detail-oriented, and good at planning. You are an excellent listener and attuned to the needs of others. You thrive in one-on-one conversations and you can forge truly meaningful connections with a small number of people. Being excellent at self-reflection, take a minute to think about some other things you are really good at, or some things you feel you are not very good at that come with a positive flipside.
Don’t try to change the personality you were born with. A young alto singer might wish to become a soprano, for those glorious arias and stunning high notes. But if they spent all their time trying to train their voice to reach a range it wasn’t supposed to, they probably will never become a successful soprano. But if they train their voice in their natural range, they could become an amazing, polished alto. An opera needs both altos and sopranos.
The world needs both introverts and extroverts. Don’t try to force yourself into a mold that doesn’t work for you. Playing to your strengths means understanding fully and with honesty what you can excel at and where your limits are. A lot of advice about networking has been written by extroverts for extroverts (which is ironic, because they naturally have an easier time with networking anyway). If none of that advice has felt right to you, it’s ok. Your software probably just runs a bit differently.
Keep a lookout for the following posts in this blog series, which will delve deeper and provide advice on how to adjust your networking strategy to be more productive and pleasant for an introvert.
Part II will largely focus on how to prepare before you even get to a networking event.
- Networking for People Who hate Networking, by Devora Zack
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
- Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi