Introversion in Small Business

Edward HopperHave you noticed the buzz about introversion lately? I’ve seen several articles, and there’s also the new book, Quiet, by Susan Cain, which champions the introverted. Cain also wrote an essay for CNN (referencing her TED talk) stating that even though as many as 50% of us are introverted, “… our most important institutions — our schools and our workplaces — are designed for extroverts.”

People in small businesses, or professionals who must build their own clientele especially may be shocked by the degree of extroversion that success in business seems to require. It’s hard enough for an introvert to talk about him/herself at all, much less do so in front of a crowd; or with superlatives, accolades, and photos as is required online. Yet how else will you get to sales?

If you’re a soloprenuer or professional, consider your peers in business. Which would you label as extroverted? Which introverted? How do their levels of success compare?

No doubt, the internet is challenging to an introvert. Social media is actually terrifying to some highly internally-focused types; bios and photos on their website make them cringe; blogging their opinions is difficult in the extreme.

Yet these shy folk are very often the most creative among us. As the readings cited above show, many of the greatest contributors to science and culture  have been labeled introverted.

It does seem as though our paradigms in business are heavily extroverted. But since we all exist somewhere between the extremes of introversion and extroversion,  I propose examining some ways we can cultivate greater respect for the contributions of introversion.

  • Listen. One of the most valuable skills of introverts, listening well and deeply is something every one of us can do more of. Endeavor, in every instance, to listen at least twice as much as you speak.
  • Take time to be alone. Even if you’re extroverted, solitary quiet time is necessary to nourish your soul and imagination. It’s part of holistic living, and never having any time alone means never taking the time to become friends with yourself.
  • Take your vacations. Nobody moans on their deathbed that they didn’t spend enough time at the office.
  • In meetings or group conversations, ask everyone for their input.
  • In building relationships for business, be aware of these personality types and treat one another accordingly. If your potential client is an introvert, you will woo him/her differently from an extrovert.
  • Do not feel bullied by the internet. It is not necessary to join every new social network or try out every new toy. Only participate when and where you feel comfortable. You do need to participate (I’m not suggesting ignoring the web’s importance to your business), but there are millions of ways to do so.
  • Do not let books, teachings, fellow business people, or anyone tell you what to think. Take time to discover and know what your own ideas are. Whether introverted or not, be careful you are not simply agreeing with the loudest mouth in the room.

Seems to me that awareness is the key, here (as always). And curbing the arrogance of an overly-extroverted culture in business will benefit us all.

  • Susan Silver

    What used to happen to me at work would be that I would talk, and immediately get interrupted. The more extroverted types wanted to get their say in, even if I had been quiet and processing. Let people speak too and give them the floor. It takes me awhile in a large group because I am usually listening to others and finding where my ideas fit in. 

  • maryhruth

    Such a great point, Susan; thanks for adding it. Only some people have loud voices and talk quickly, and it’s very limited to confine our leadership to those types!