By Lauren Keller Johnson
Lauren Keller Johnson is a freelance writer living in Harvard, MA
You’ve decided you’re an introvert. Maybe you took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test or read about the defining characteristics of introverts as compared with extroverts, and said, “Yep—that’s me.”
Regardless of how you arrived at your conclusion, you probably identify with the introvert communication preferences Patricia Weber describes in her book Communication Toolkit for Introverts:
- Thinking things through before speaking
- Openly talking about yourself with people you know and trust
- Staying in the background in group gatherings
- Communicating through writing
- Conversing with others one-on-one rather than in groups or meetings
As a manager, knowing you’re an introvert can help you master a critical component of your job: influencing others. For example:
- To get top-notch performance from your team, you’ll need to persuade your employees to support strategies you’ve defined for the team.
- To get peers to back your great ideas for new projects that’ll require cross-functional collaboration, you must “sell” your ideas to them.
- To get your boss to allocate resources your team needs to do its work, you’ll have to make a compelling business case for those resources.
All that interacting, all that verbalizing: these activities sound way more comfortable for an extrovert than an introvert. So perhaps you’re wondering just how good an influencer you can hope to become.
Here’s good news: Many of an introvert’s preferences make them naturals for successful influencing, Weber argues. And some of these preferences can actually help you adopt the extroverted behaviors you’ll also occasionally need to draw upon.
Consider these ideas for leveraging your natural introvert tendencies for successful influencing:
Introverts are comfortable with many behaviors associated with listening, such as giving their attention, asking clarifying and probing questions, and thinking things through before responding. These very tendencies can help you master other influence-related behaviors that come more naturally to extroverts—like maintaining eye contact during conversations.
Listening also helps you better understand others’ needs and concerns. It gives you time to determine how to adapt your “pitch” to better emphasize the benefits of your idea. For example, “I hear you’re unhappy about having to adopt this new order-fulfillment process. Let me show you how it’ll help you reduce shipping errors, which you’ve expressed concern about.”
Active listening also allows others to hear themselves talk and share their viewpoints. When people feel heard by you, they tend to like you — and people tend to support ideas presented by people they like. Plus, when you make others feel heard, they’re more likely to feel involved, engaged, and connected to the idea you propose.
Tap into your “playground of ideas”
As Weber points out, introverts enjoy the “playground of ideas” they find in their own minds. Drawing on those ideas—through stories and metaphors—can help you further influence others.
Suppose you want your sales team to take part in a training course. You know they’re concerned about the time investment required. You could say something like, “You’ll learn sales skills needed for more success, including what skills are needed in each stage of the selling process and which skills you need to focus on improving.” But you’d really pique their interest if you used the type of vivid metaphor that often comes more naturally to an introvert. For example: “Selling is like flying a plane: First you file a flight plan. Then you use your observation skills, handle any turbulence that arises, follow your plan, and successfully land. Think of this course as your all-inclusive ‘sales flight plan.’ It’ll help you see where you need to strengthen or just tweak specific skills to ‘land’ more sales.”
Restore your energy
As you seek to influence others, you’ll need to demonstrate both introvert and extrovert behaviors. Behaving in ways that feel less natural to you can drain your energy. So seize opportunities to recharge. For instance, as you make appropriate eye contact while listening to someone, you’re focusing on the person in front of you. That helps you preserve your energy, by saving you from having to process multiple activities swirling around you.
Also, if you’re planning to make a major presentation to a large group later in the day, use time in the morning to engage in activities that energize you—like sending emails, researching and writing, and planning your presentation.
Want to know more? Check out Chapter 9: Power Tools of Influence, Persuasion, and Selling in Patricia Weber’s Communication Toolkit for Introverts. You’ll find a wealth of additional tips and strategies for using and building on introvert preferences to influence others.
(Editor’s note: check out Safari’s new Management Communication section for more resources to help you hone your communication skills.)