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Posted on 03.01.2012

Introvert Power: Why we make great communicators

“What are you thinking over there? You’re awfully quiet,” a client once said to me. It felt more like an accusation than an observation. We were midway through a strategy session on a new product and I had been listening intently as the sales team shared information – much of which I was hearing for the first time. Aside from asking a few questions, I hadn’t interrupted, interjected or otherwise hijacked the conversation to share half-baked recommendations or serve my own agenda. Was that wrong? I didn’t think so but, at that moment, it sure felt like it. Being an introvert in what often seems like a world of extroverts can be tough. Quiet, thoughtful reflection is often mistaken as shyness or disinterest. It’s especially difficult in fields like marketing, sales or even public relations, which tend to attract extroverts. (I’ll never forget taking the D.I.S.C. personality test in a roomful of hospital marketing directors a few years ago and being the only “analyzer” in a room full of “promoters.”) Right or wrong, identifying yourself as an “introvert” often seems a notch above “hermit” or a “weirdo.” That’s why it’s a label many of us have been reluctant to accept. That may be changing though, thanks in part to a new book that’s focusing renewed attention on what being an introvert really means. In a recent Time cover story, Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” maintains introverts aren’t necessarily shy or anti-social. They simply tend to be more cautious and sensitive – preferring an environment of minimal stimulation to one filled with chaos. As a result, they’re better listeners, which often makes them better leaders. In fact, Cain cites a Wharton study that found introverted leaders delivered better results than extroverts when managing employees, in part because they encouraged others’ ideas. You see, it’s not that introverts can’t engage. Sometimes they just don’t want to… at least not right then and there. Introverts like to gather information and internalize their thoughts before speaking up. As such, their recommendations tend to be thorough, well thought out and often more strategic than those from their charismatic, shoot-from-the-hip counterparts. In fact, a recent New York Times editorial asserted introverts may make better doctors for these very reasons. I’d say the same can be said for communications and marketing strategists, as well. What’s more, introverts value preparation, engage in meticulous planning and ask insightful questions that can inform strategy and uncover hidden landmines. They are often better speakers because they take the time to research their audience and tailor a presentation that provides meaningful information. Perhaps most importantly, they prefer to express themselves through writing – a key skill for any communications professional. While introverts bring tremendous value to any organization, research suggests they become truly powerful when paired with extroverts whose strengths complement their own. So the next time you’re assembling a team to develop a marketing strategy or tackle a communications challenge, be sure it includes an introvert or two. We probably won’t be the ones waving our hands on the front row, but our influence will be equally strong and far-reaching. Photo by: David Castillo Dominici

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