You don’t have to become more outgoing to succeed in your career. You can do it in a way that works for you as an introvert.
It’s hard to get ahead in business, no matter who you are. But it can seem even harder for introverts, who are conditioned to believe we need to “overcome” our natural tendencies to succeed at work.
Unfortunately, introverted professionals are often made to feel like we don’t belong in business. After all, we are frequently coached to speak up more, network more, or be more x, y, or z that pushes us to be more like the outgoing, extroverted mainstream.
First, Shun the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
It can be frustrating to be made to feel like you need to become someone you’re not in order to advance your career. It can crush your confidence and even create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you’re told introverts are “less than” extroverts, sooner or later, you may just believe it. Here are a few ways I have heard this harmful message conveyed in the workplace over the years:
- “Mike is a great CEO, but he’s an introvert.”
- “Brian is a brilliant marketer, but he’s too quiet and introverted.”
- “I’m only considering job candidates who are outgoing extroverts.”
- “You may be surprised to learn our regional president is an introvert, but don’t tell anyone.”
I admit, hearing these words stung, and at times, they made me question if I could advance my career despite my introverted ways. But the truth is, introversion is not a weakness, limitation, or shortcoming in business (or out of business).
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Introverts Can Thrive in Business
Introverts not only belong in business, but we can thrive working in business at any level — as an individual contributor, mid-level manager, senior executive, board member, or anything in between. Just think about all the first ladies and U.S. presidents who were introverts, in addition to other famous women (like Oprah!).
As an introvert who gradually advanced from being an administrative assistant to a c-suite executive over a 20+ year corporate career — and worked for several successful introverted leaders along the way — I’m here to tell you that your natural introverted strengths are exactly what you need to reach your career goals.
I learned how to apply my introverted powers to advance my career, and you can, too.
The ‘Introvert Way’ to Developing Essential Work Skills
Early in my career, I was often confused on what it would take to get ahead. After repeatedly getting passed over for promotions, I began to study how my colleagues advanced their careers.
I also participated in countless management discussions to decide who would (or would not) get promoted — which was incredibly revealing. And I was continually learning from my own trial and error of career setbacks.
Themes and patterns began to surface. I started to see how certain actions, behaviors, and skillsets laddered up to a few higher-level capabilities. These included the ability to deliver results and be seen as a high performer, show the potential to learn and grow, and gain advocacy and support from others.
These higher-level abilities had the power to accelerate my next promotion — they were essential to career advancement.
I also realized the way to develop and master these essential abilities was different for introverts than extroverts. Those of us who are naturally quiet have several unique advantages in how we can tap into our introverted strengths to achieve our career goals. Let me explain…
4 Ways to Advance Your Career the ‘Introvert Way’
1. Deliver results — see what your manager prefers and adapt accordingly.
Your ability to produce strong results and be seen as a top performer is where it all starts. It represents the table stakes to a successful career and is the most obvious factor associated with advancement.
It goes without saying that the better you are at your job — the more results you deliver that positively impact the business — the easier it will be to advance your career and earn promotions.
But how you produce results matters, too. High performers are easy to work with, and, for introverts, our natural way of working with consideration for others works to our benefit.
For example, one of the many great qualities of introverts is our ability to quietly listen intently while we allow coworkers to speak without interruption. And, as keen observers, introverts pay close attention to how their manager prefers to work, and adapt accordingly. Plus, when it comes to workplace drama, it’s rarely the introverts who are to blame.
Introverts increase their chances for advancement by simply getting along well with others. People usually enjoy working with us, especially once they get to know us more. We don’t whine or complain. And even if we cross paths with a difficult coworker, we do what introverts naturally do: keep it to ourselves and steer clear of the fray.
2. Show your potential — remember, “actions speak louder than words” (especially for introverts).
Being viewed as a high performer is an important factor for career advancement. But being known as a high-potential employee is essential to earning a promotion. You need others to recognize your ability to take on more important work.
And for introverts, this offers a time to shine because actions speak louder than words. The actions I’m referring to are ones that accelerate our growth and help us become better: expanding skills and competencies, seeking feedback from others, and embracing new experiences.
Here’s the thing: This kind of work doesn’t come easier to extroverts than introverts — both can suffer complacency equally. And the benefit of getting outside your comfort zone applies, no matter who you are (remember, many extroverts fear public speaking too!).
In fact, I would argue introverts have an advantage here. Many career-minded introverts are dedicated to self-development and spend considerable time reflecting on our way of working, uncovering important insights into what aspects are helping (or hindering) our ability to get promoted.
For example, earlier in my career, I recognized that my preference to think before I speak often served me well — deftly dodging “foot in mouth” mishaps that my extroverted coworkers commonly made. But I also realized that it sometimes made it difficult to contribute to group discussions.
As a result, I tried new ways to be a more active participant in meetings, which, in turn, strengthened my standing as a high-potential employee.
This kind of introspection and self-knowledge is essential to drive your professional development in the right direction and position yourself as a high-potential professional. And when you take action based on your insights, you send a powerful message to management about your potential to take on more at work.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
3. Gain advocacy by helping others succeed.
Your ability to gain advocacy at work is critical to getting promoted. You need people to want to help you — to believe in you and advocate for your advancement.
Now, the thought of raising your profile at work and “winning over advocates” may make you cringe; it certainly does for me. It sounds a lot like lobbying for endorsements, and that feels super smarmy.
But this isn’t about shameless schmoozing with higher-ups. It’s about doing what introverts naturally do very well: generously helping others.
Again, this is something that comes easily to introverts. Thanks to our strong observation skills, it can be easier for introverts to recognize when a coworker is struggling. And when we act on this information and offer our assistance, it creates instant goodwill that can extend well beyond the person we help. Let me give you an example.
Earlier in my career, there was a senior executive who held significant clout in the organization. I had a decent relationship with her, but it wasn’t until she learned how I helped one of her employees move an important project forward that she became a supporter.
I saw her employee struggling to gain support from my peers, so I stepped up to help remove roadblocks. And it didn’t go unnoticed. She reached out to me a few weeks later and thanked me for what I did to help her employee, and for role modeling a higher level of cooperation among my peers. It ended up turning a mostly neutral relationship into one of advocacy and support moving forward.
The lesson: When you give to others, it gets noticed — and shared with others.
4. Foster strong friendships — after all, introverts are great at one-on-one conversations.
Another introverted attribute that can help us gain advocacy from others is our strength in establishing strong one-on-one relationships. Introverts make great friends! And, once an introvert gets to know someone, they enjoy deep, meaningful conversations with them.
To advance in business, you don’t need everyone to be your friend. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. And I bet you already have a handful of good friends among your coworkers, a select few who you’ve deemed worthy to trust and can count on to have your back.
These are your work friends — they know you, believe in you, and want to see you succeed. Enlisting their support can be a difference-maker on your path to a promotion.
It won’t go unnoticed by senior leaders that you have a coalition of strong supporters, which can also be a consideration for promotions. Leaders want to promote people who are liked and respected by others, and whose promotion would be a welcomed celebration.
My small circle of work besties was invaluable in my career journey — calling out my contributions on key projects, getting me added to the agenda for important meetings, and simply having an eye out for ways to get me more visibility at work.
Remember, Advance Your Career Your Way
Don’t forget, there’s always more than one way to reach our goals.
What works for extroverts may not work for introverts. But that doesn’t mean you don’t belong in business or need to become someone you’re not to advance. There’s no need to “fake it till you make it.”
I learned how to tap into my introverted strengths to develop the abilities essential to career advancement. As a result, I made it easier for management to recognize my value and reward me with promotions.
It wasn’t about becoming more social or outgoing. It was about finding a way forward that worked for me. And if I can do it, I know you can, too!
Want to learn more about what matters most to get promoted at work? Sign up for my bi-weekly newsletter at FinallyPromoted.com.
You might like:
- 5 Ways to Succeed in a People-Oriented Job as an Introvert
- 7 Ways Introverts Can Build a Good Reputation Without Saying a Word
- These Are the Ideal Careers for Each Introverted Myers-Briggs Type
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