Reality check—7 hard realities of introverted pros

By Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D.

“It’s not easy being green,” laments Muppet Kermit the Frog. Same goes for being introverted in an extroverted business world, says workplace expert Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength (Berrett-Koehler, 2009, $19.95). With their appetite for talk and attention, extroverts dominate the workplace, she asserts. Meanwhile, introverts—with their quiet smarts and unsung successes—sit on the professional sidelines, routinely ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood. The good news? When introverts confront their challenges, they can learn to manage them, explains Kahnweiler. She identifies seven hard realities of introverted pros.

People exhaustion

Introverts can experience an assortment of ailments at work—headaches, backaches, stomachaches, and more—yet feel fine off the job. This mind-body response to stress can result from a wide range of factors. The chief culprit: people exhaustion.

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 and work-life balance.

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 on promotions or plum assignments simply because they don’t sell themselves.

Unheard ideas Introverts often have great ideas that go unheard. In group settings, they may show up with smart solutions, yet can’t seem to find an opening in which to share them. Even in one-on-one conversations—especially with talkers—they have trouble interjecting their ideas and being heard.

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.

Slow thinking Introverts are measured thinkers—tending, unlike extroverts, to think first and talk later. In meetings or casual conversations, they choose to listen carefully, hear all the facts, and process their thoughts before responding to others. Consequently, introverts are commonly seen as being slow or indecisive— non-contributors who can’t think on their feet and keep up.

Negative first impressions Introverts don’t intend to make a negative first impression, but their silence or spartan use of words can lead others to view them as aloof, cold, or even rude. They can also be seen as too serious—especially by fun-loving extroverts—and frequently leave people wondering what’s wrong. Worse, for many introverts, these early impressions tend to stick—sometimes indefinitely.

The good news? When introverts confront their challenges, they can learn to manage them.

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