Introverts are getting a great deal of attention recently, in part due to Susan Cain’s popular book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” published last year and this year’s Scientific American article, The Power of Introverts: A Manifesto for Quiet Brilliance. In the past, introverts tended to be criticized as less, somehow, in need of being “fixed” or “brought out of their shell” by extroverts. This perception may have arisen from lack of knowledge and is explored in this article by examining how introverts might best be coached in the workplace as one factor among many in coaching skill-building.
First, we’ll tackle a few basic questions before moving on to specific coaching strategies. This initial groundwork looks at these questions: what is an introvert? how does an introvert generally relate to the world? and finally what percentage of the world is introverted versus extraverted?
What is an introvert?
According to Carl Jung, the psychologist who defined the terms introversion and extraversion in the language, Introversion is all about drawing energy from the internal world of thoughts and ideas, preferring depth and pausing for thought. Jung would say that the unconscious preoccupation of introverts is therefore privacy. Extraversion, on the other hand, is about drawing energy from the world of people, things, and activities, and dealing in breadth rather than depth. Jung would say that the unconscious preoccupation of extraverts is therefore access to people. Introverts then tend to focus on their own inner world of ideas and experiences. They direct their energy and attention inward and receive energy from their internal thoughts, feelings and reflections. They tend to enjoy quiet for concentration and do not mind working on one project for a long time. They usually prefer working alone and develop their ideas through reflection.
People who prefer introversion are energized when they are involved with the ideas, images, memories, and reactions that are a part of their inner world. Introverts often prefer solitary activities or spending time with one or two others with whom they feel an affinity, and they often have a calming effect on those around them.
Introverts often take time to reflect on ideas that explain the outer world. With their orientation to the inner world, introverts truly like the idea of something, often better than the something itself, and ideas are almost solid things for them.
So, in summary, people who prefer introversion are likely to:
- Be mainly private and contained
- Enjoy being calm and “centered” or reserved (preferring reflection in general). This means they tend to reflect before acting or speaking
- Feel comfortable being alone and like solitary activities
- Prefer fewer, more intense relationships socially (and may need time to recover from heavy socializing)
- Sometimes spend too much time reflecting and may not move into action quickly (usually wanting to understand things thoroughly before acting)
- Often like quiet space in which to work or concentrate
- Sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if their ideas really fit their experience (as they are drawn to inner world of thoughts and ideas)
To contrast the introvert with the extravert, the following table may help (and, you will notice that both lists start and end with how extraverts and introverts use energy:
How does an introvert generally relate to the world?
Quiet people may be introverted but this is not always the case, as extraverts can be quiet for a short period and some introverts can adopt more extraverted and non-quiet behaviors for a period. We can tune into the language that introverts tend to use to get a better idea of when individuals may have a greater preference for introversion. Hence, we might hear statements such as:
- “I have to reflect on that” (although they may just do this and say nothing!)
- “I have had one or two close friends most of my life.”
- “I can usually concentrate/focus pretty well.”
- “I prefer not to make speeches/presentations/talking in public.”
- “Let me think about it and I’ll have an answer for you tomorrow.”
- “I’d rather do it on my own.”
Outside of observing language clues we might also see the following general behaviors:
- Often require a lot of time alone (but can often tune out very effectively and hence be alone in a crowd).
- Dislike interruptions.
- Can’t be easily pressured into talking about an issue until ready (may take quite a long time).
- Is often intense and passionate even though it may often not show, seeming to take life very seriously.
- Must generally understand a thing before trying it.
- Generally think carefully before speaking or acting.
- Often very good listeners.
- Generally dislike small talk.
What percentage of the world is introverted versus extraverted?
It is popularly thought that introverts are only 25-30% of the total population. However, the managers of the Jungian based Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI®) have more recently reported that in a population of hundreds of thousands of assessment-takes the split is 51:49 in favor of Introverts. For the purposes of this article we are going to assume that there is approximately the same amount of introverts as extraverts or it is a 50:50 split. An article on this subject can be found at the “Thoughtful self-improvement” site at http://www.thoughtful-self-improvement.com/percentage-of-introverts.html.
Coaching the introvert
Now that we have understood more about introverted preferences, let’s turn our attention to how best to coach an introvert. Perhaps the best place to start is to look at the kind of frustrations and/or goals that introverts are likely to have in the workplace. Although this is both an incomplete and non-specific list below are ten of the most common ones:
1. A wish to boost overall ability to interact (often confused with external show of confidence and self-esteem) – introverts (and not exclusively of course) may suffer from low self-esteem where they have become over-introspective and/or when they have lost confidence in their inner means to cope with their work environment. A coach may therefore need to help them to develop greater confidence (often by getting them to give more of their assistance and advice to others).
2. A wish to contribute more in important workplace discussions and/or decisions – Extraverts may well become impatient with introverts in significant discussions when important decisions have to be made (especially when time is pressing) so an introvert may feel unheard or sidelined. However, introverts can typically be much more effective in difficult problem-solving situations and when complex issues need to be thought through and a coach can help in getting introverts to better promote these skills as a key step in important discussions or before key decisions are made.
3. A wish for a greater connection to others – Introverts can feel incompetent or unskilled in communicating and connecting with others (despite their need to spend time alone to think and reflect on a regular basis). A coach may therefore need to help them to develop approaches to connect with other people.
4. A wish to overcome apparent shyness (at least to some degree) – Shyness may be a sign of introverts under-developed social skills and/or under-developed sense of self. There is a huge difference between an introvert who requires quiet time and an introvert who avoids people wherever possible. The former is taking necessary time and keeping his or her energy “battery” charged whereas the latter is being avoidant and potentially not helping him or herself and the team of which he or she is a part. A coach may therefore need to help an introvert to develop the ability to enjoy limited socializing that is commensurate and comfortable for the introvert’s overall temperament.
5. A wish to be less “perfectionistic” at times – Most introverts want to evolve thinking such that the output of their thinking is as near perfect as possible. But if this goes too far, the perfectionism may negatively impact the introvert and others (and create a sense of slowing things down unnecessarily). Coaching can help here by providing a more objective perspective on the introvert’s introspection and by identifying a way of being at least somewhat more pragmatic when time and circumstances demand it.
6. A wish to deal more effectively with the dominance of extraverts in the workplace – Most introverts see extraverts to be more assertive and even pushy, confident (perhaps overly so) and prone to jump-around a lot. This approach often puts them “in-charge” of tasks and projects (even if they are not the official leader). This can be irritating to an introvert, especially if he or she is the knowledge expert and he or she may therefore just withdraw and let the extravert “dig his/her own grave”. A coach therefore needs to work with the introvert to find common ground with the extravert by not withdrawing and getting information to them in different ways-such as ahead of time in writing or quietly on a one-on-one basis after a discussion.
7. A wish to work more effectively in the fast-paced work climate that is often required – Today’s work environment often requires work to meet difficult to achieve deadlines. A coach can work with an introvert to help develop different ways to contribute that meet the pressure of a deadline, or sometimes show why changing a deadline (to allow for deeper thinking perhaps) may create a better result.
8. A wish to promote their own agenda and needs at work and when networking – While an extravert will not be slow at putting him or herself forward, the introvert may find self-promotion to be extremely difficult. Here a coach can work with an introvert to pre-identify/pre-prepare important issues and contributions that should be made, so that they can put forward in pithy and impactful ways in more public environments.
9. A wish to more effectively contribute effectively in meetings – Extraverts will often call meetings, chair them and do most of the talking (it is after all an extraverted communication format with lots of people talking about lots of things in a fixed time period). An introvert may never therefore feel totally comfortable in this climate but a coach can work with an introvert to ask questions of others and communicate both before and after to ensure their input is heard. This helps to emphasise that their input is important and insightful and worth sharing. (this in turn boosts their confidence in themselves/ their ability. They may need strong encouragement and strategies for getting their ideas on the table and to realize that an idea does NOT have to be carefully crafted before it is put into the outside world.
10. A wish to put themselves forward strongly enough to lead projects and even gain promotion – Introverts will put themselves forward for jobs they think they are capable of doing but may not see themselves to be the forceful leader that is required. A coach can therefore work with an introvert to increase confidence in his or her own ability and give them strategies for leadership that are a comfortable fit for his or her temperament.
So, how should a coach relate to an introvert?
All of the above often boils down to one major issue – communication. Of course, both extraverts and introverts have helpful and hindering behaviors, as the table below illustrates:
Communicating – Extraversion and Introversion
|Potentially helpful||Potentially hindering|
|Extraversion||being outgoing and sociable; being spontaneous and enthusiastic; enjoying talking through ideas with peers and the people you manage; demonstrating energy||overwhelming people; finding listening difficult; wanting to get to action too quickly; being easily distracted; appearing to have a ‘butterfly’ approach|
|Introversion||a reflective style which allows people space; listening attentively; concentrating on what is happening below the surface; staying calm||appearing withdrawn or moody; lacking in social confidence; seeming over-intense; disliking large meetings; appearing lacking in presence|
A coach can help an introvert in at least three of the four boxes in the above table. This is not only with the potentially hindering behavior of the extravert and introvert but also in helping the introverted individual to promote him or herself in the more positive ways that he or she can contribute to the team. To do this there are effective strategies for a coach to adopt, as well as approaches to avoid as follows:
|Effective coaching strategies to adopt with Introverts||Coaching approaches to avoid with Introverts|
|Allow an introvert time to “mine” his or her internal feelings and thoughts-this means being more patient in general||Don’t spend time on small talk|
|Always operate in a calm and considerate manner (avoiding too much gesticulation or histrionics)||Don’t introduce multiple points one after the other or overwhelm with a lot of unrelated data|
|Listen carefully using occasional paraphrases to check for understanding||Avoid “jumping in” too quickly and completing sentences or thoughts for introverts|
|Introduce points one at a time and allow them to be fully discussed||Try to discourage too much introspection or unhelpful “wallowing” in an issue|
|Ask searching questions about complex issues||Get them to respond to statements or questions immediately|
|Let silence reign and allow time for answers||Don’t push for action too early|
|Encourage the introvert to partner with others (but perhaps just one or two people) on tasks and projects on a limited basis||Don’t push them to be more extraverted|
|Allow them to talk about details or minor points (these may be more important than at first appears)||Encourage them into group or team coaching|
|Assign homework and reading between sessions for study and reflection||Don’t let a session ramble on too long-it will overwhelm the introvert who will want to escape.|
And finally, how should an introvert relate to his or her coach?
If an introvert is dealing with an introverted coach, then there may be a more comfortable relationship. However, even here the coach may be pushing quite hard towards outcomes. Where the coach is an extravert, this pushing may be even more apparent however, and it is therefore up to the introverted person to play his or her part in managing the relationship to get the most from the experience. Here are therefore a few ways in which this can be done:
- Always bring a notepad/journal to a coaching session – take notes and keep a record of thoughts/feelings for yourself.
- Ask your coach for direct and candid feedback.
- Speak up when you need more time to reflect on what has been asked of you or when a subject warrants it, or when you have a more important concern to discuss.
- Specifically let your coach know when you are starting to share your private views–the ones that you keep to yourself in usual circumstances.
- Let your coach know directly if you are not comfortable in sharing some information or you prefer not to answer a question that has been put to you.
- When working with a highly extravert coach be prepared to apply a metaphorical “hammer” from time to time to get his or her attention.
- After your coaching session, keep a running record of brief notes on what you thought after you have had time to ponder things – write down what you are learning.
- Make a list of new questions or issues and bring it with you to your next coaching session.
- Try and be as willing as possible to attempt something new or different that you may not otherwise consider. Small stretch tasks will eventually help to make bigger stretches.
- Talk to new colleagues and build new relationships as you become comfortable in doing so when being coached – start with other introverts. Relate the experience to your coach.
- Take the whole coaching journey step-by-step and let things unfold as slowly as you like. Your coach at your pace, you do not have to work at theirs.
Introverts have much to bring to any workplace. In general they are more effective than extraverts at focusing or concentrating on important issues, thinking deeply about them and coming up with new, different or well thought through ideas (often noticing or picking up important details that extraverts may miss entirely). They may need a little more time and space to perform this role, and may need assistance in teasing out their ideas, but results usually make this extremely worthwhile. The more that extroverts therefore become knowledgeable about introverts, the less tension and misunderstanding there will be among the two and the higher overall workplace productivity will become. To finally summarize, if you don’t know what an extravert is thinking you haven’t been listening but if you don’t know what an introvert is thinking, you haven’t asked. And as a final contrast, albeit with tongue in cheek, the table below from counseling group New Reflections leaves no doubt about the differences.
An Introverts Versus Extraverts Lexicon
|WORD||Extrovert’s Definition||Introvert’s Definition|
|Alone, adj.||Lonely.||Enjoying some peace and quiet.|
|Book, n.||1) Doorstop.
|1) Source of comfort.
2) Safe and inexpensive method of travelling, having adventures, and meeting interesting people.
|Bored, adj.||Not frantically busy.||Stuck making small talk, and unable to escape politely.|
|Extrovert, n.||A nice, normal, sociable person. Never surprises you with anything weird.||A boisterous person who may be very nice, but who is somewhat exhausting to spend time with. Usually not too deep, but fun.|
|Free time, n.||A time when you do group activities. (See Introvert’s Definition of work.)||A time when you read without interruption until you’re in danger of going blind.|
|Friend, n.||Someone who makes sure that you’re never alone.||Someone who understands that you’re not rejecting them when you need to be alone.|
|Good manners, n.||Making sure people aren’t left all by themselves. Filling in any silences in a conversation.||Not bothering people, unless it’s necessary, or they approach you. (Sometimes you can bother people you know well, but make sure they aren’t busy first.)|
|Home, n.||A place to invite everybody you know.||A place to hide from everybody you know.|
|Internet, n.||1) Another medium for advertising.
2) A place where geeks with no life hang out.
|A way to meet other introverts. You don’t have to go out, and writing allows you to think before just blurting something out.|
|Introvert, n.||One of those who like to read. Moody loners. Be careful not to tick them off; some of them are serial killers.||One who shows a perfectly natural restraint and caution when meeting new people. One who appreciates solitude. Often, one who enjoys reading and has a philosophical turn of mind.|
|Love, n.||Never having to do anything alone.||Being understood and appreciated.|
|Music, n.||Background noise.||Something with a tune and lyrics which may be moving and intelligent, or may be drivel.|
|Phone, n.||Lifeline to other people – your reason for living.||Necessary evil, and yet another interruption. Occasionally useful, but mostly a nuisance.|
|Reading, v.||A chore that a teacher makes you do when you’re a kid.||You have to do it in secret and pretend you don’t really do it, or people think you’re strange.|
|Shell, n.||Something you find on the beach.||What people relentlessly nag you to come out of. Why do you have to leave it, if you’re happy there?|
|To go out, v.||Requires at least two people, and the more the better. Constant chatter, loud music, sports, crowds, and food consumption are all fun components of going out.||Can be done alone or with others. Enjoyable if there’s some point to it; i.e., in order to see a band, a movie, a play, or perhaps to have a stimulating discussion with one or two close friends.|
|Work, n.||Having to read, write, listen, or concentrate on anything.||Being pestered every five minutes about something trivial, and not allowed to concentrate.|