People & Human Resources

Is being introverted a career stopper?

Engel Schmidl /

One of the inescapable facts of the workplace is that you have to work and interact with other people.

We are constantly being pushed to do this more often and more effectively. As your career gathers steam you meet more people and are required to influence more people. All of this points towards being an extrovert. Does this mean you have to be extroverted to be successful in business?

Not necessarily.

An introvert is someone who is happier and more relaxed in comfortable and familiar social situations, preferring not to stand out from the crowd. This personality type is not fundamentally afraid of social situations, but typically finds them to be quite an effort.

The extrovert, on the other hand, loves new interactions and new situations. Being singled out in a crowd is a source of excitement for them, and social gatherings, particularly with new people, are energizing.

When is it helpful to be an introvert?

It may seem strange to suggest that introversion can be helpful to a career as there is such an emphasis on new interactions, but introverts offer some great value to teams. One thing they do well is consolidate existing relationships. So, although the initial relationship building skills may be lacking, these people create a very strong, tight network of people around them.

When is it damaging?

Being an introvert can be very damaging when it is coupled with anxiety. Introverts that feel pressured to be more outgoing and gregarious in new social situations can move into a perpetuating cycle of embarrassment and increasing shyness.

It is less damaging when the introvert learns to cope with these pressures and handles these interactions differently. When an introvert accepts that they don’t have to be extroverted, or at least they only have to adopt extrovert behaviours on rare occasions, the social anxiety can reduce to manageable levels.

Can you change your profile?

Personality has two sides: inherited traits and learned behaviour. The inherited traits are those that persist over time and seemingly existed as soon as you entered the world. The learned behaviour is the way you respond, both cognitively and behaviourally. Social situations provide a complex web of feedback signals and we are subject to thousands of different interpretations.

Changing your extraversion/introversion profile is possible. There are a set of behaviours that are considered extrovert: public speaking, meeting new people, etc. An introvert can adopt these behaviours, although it will be uncomfortable and less enjoyable. These are learned behaviours that you can change intentionally – the resultant feelings however will be much more difficult to adjust.

And then there is the virtual world where some introverts thrive because they can reach out and be sociable without leaving their screen!

Emotional stability

There is a false view that introverts are socially backward people who are too overcome with anxiety to exhibit the normal range of social skills. Although true in some instances, it’s much more likely that the introvert simply doesn’t enjoy social situations as much. In fact, many extroverts are just as insecure, but reach out for social validation to remedy this.

Extraversion/introversion is a very different field to anxiety and emotional stability. The two should never be confused with each other.

Where does this intersect with leadership?

Leaders are often assumed to be extroverts, but again this isn’t always the case. Great leaders are often people that don’t set out to be great leaders – they just have a very strong vision and adhere consistently to their values. This kind of integrity is usually strong enough to draw people together and create a following. Although extroverted behaviours help, especially with assertiveness and delivering a message for others to follow, leadership is not the sole domain of the extrovert.

Overall, leadership and social encounters are experienced very differently across the spectrum of extroversion. When you begin to understand your own behaviours and thought processes you can direct your learned behaviours in ways that consolidate and further your career.

Eve Ash has produced over 500 workplace training videos, including Q&A: Understanding Personality Differences, Successful Thinking Habits and 5 Steps to Self-Esteem.

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