Until recently, society has had this idea that being successful in the business world was dependent upon one’s ability to be a straight talker who bursts with charisma and energy. Read interviews about business leaders who are revered for their success, and they’ll surely be described as go-getters with a fiery drive and unstoppable determination.
Such traits are equated with “productivity” and “efficiency” in the business world. So, it would seem that contemplative, quiet introverts lack the necessary skills to do well in careers that require leadership and communication. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Studies led by Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School show that social extroversion can be harmful as much as helpful.
How so? Generally speaking, extroverts tend to be more concerned about matters of status, position, and authority compared to their introverted counterparts. Because of their competitive nature, extroverted types may feel threatened by ideas and suggestions from others. All of the above can be a real problem when it comes to teamwork and group collaboration.
Furthermore, scientists have noted that extroverts tend to focus on seeing and acquiring results (the quicker the better), while introverts pay attention to the processes that deliver results — they think carefully and consider the broader impact and long-term effects.
Grant’s study provides evidence for the idea that success isn’t determined by our introversion or extroversion. It’s about having behaviors and actions that get the results we’re aiming for.
With this in mind, I’m going to point out three careers that are notorious for being “people person” positions. As we know, an extroverted personality isn’t necessary for success. In fact, an introverted personality may be precisely what these careers need.
(Here’s how we define an introvert, by the way.)
1. Medical Practitioner
The beloved doctors of mainstream TV make it seem like you can’t doctor unless you’re a charismatic know-it-all with rock-hard abs and a 24/7 smile. Even being a nurse sounds like an insane suggestion, as they’re slammed with an endless list of patients to see every day. But there are some big pros here.
Both nurses and doctors are with patients for small chunks of time. These patients are also in constant rotation. In addition, doctors and nurses are responsible for gaining important information. That requires conversation, but in the form of asking thoughtful questions. This aspect of medical work may be the most important to success, and this is where an introvert can shine.
A 2015 study on introversion and medical student education explored how education and evaluation of medical students affect introverts. The medical field is undoubtedly extrovert-dominated; it emphasizes working as a group, as well as answering and performing on the spot. When it came to introverts and standard evaluation, it became apparent there was a bias against students who were initiating discussion, participating in and leading group work, and so on.
That almost makes a medical career sound like an introvert’s own hell on Earth. But there’s more. This study revealed that introverted students were more likely to:
- pay attention to detail
- listen actively and carefully
- take thoughtful notes
- think before speaking
- seek more information for understanding and certainty
- consider various perspectives on a single issue
I don’t have to tell you that these tendencies are extraordinarily helpful when you have an unknown health problem to solve. Whether it’s a kid-loving introvert working as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner or a quiet business-minded Medical Administrative Assistant, introverts have so much to offer the medical world.
2. Social Worker
Working with clients? Clients with whom you have regular and constant contact? This career seems decidedly un-introverted, I know. But introverts can actually bring a lot to the table when it comes to the field of social work.
According to Dr. Maureen Rubin, a long-time mental health worker:
“Acquired knowledge is important to connect with a client or people in the community. The urge to help and transfer knowledge to a skill to work with a client or in a community is a great expertise. Being a good listener and culturally aware of the various diversity related issues could mold a person to be an effective social worker.”
As introverts, we tend to be very conscientious of other people’s feelings and needs. We can put such skills to work in positions like Diversity and Inclusion Manager or Behavioral Health Manager. Roles like these require a professional who is aware of the needs and troubles their clients face. Even better, it requires someone to contemplate thoughtful and effective solutions. An introvert skilled in listening, understanding, and analyzing would be an incredible asset in this line of work.
Teaching is considered a “social” job, yet it is another position that calls to introverts. It used to be that “Teach” stood up in front of the class and droned on for 7 hours a day, but those days of ceaseless babbling are drawing to a close. The best learning doesn’t happen when a teacher takes the spotlight and preaches to students. It happens through group work, student-led demonstrations, and online teaching tools that make it possible to educate while capturing students’ attention. Now, instruction has it’s place as much as ever, but today’s world requires a teacher who is productive and effective — and this opens the door to all sorts of introverted methods.
What matters is that we’re successful in acquiring our desired result. That means that we can plan for time to sit in peace and think. We can pass on in-person meetings and opt to collaborate with staff using group messaging or business communication apps like Slack or Wrike. We can keep parents up to date by creating a school blog, emailing newsletters, or sending kids home with handwritten notes.
Success isn’t in what we do; it’s in how we do it. And that’s just as true for introverts as it is for extroverts. In fact, our inherent introverted ways give us the makings for some serious success. As middle school teacher John Spencer writes, “I’m a better teacher not in spite of being an introvert, but because of it.”
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