Most of the time, the business world is no place for shy folk. As Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader, explains on LeanIn.org, "Many organizational cultures support those who talk about their accomplishments, who spend more time out and about networking instead of alone deep in thought, and who make sure they are the first to get their ideas heard."
Entrepreneurship is harder still on introverts. Especially when you're starting up, you need to constantly make contacts and seize every chance to sell yourself and your company, a condition that favors an outgoing personality. Plus: You're the boss! So you have to live your life more or less publicly whether you want to or not.
Even so, you can learn to make your love of solitude and keen observational skills work for you. Kahnweiler offered some helpful tips on how introverts can use their unique strengths to excel.
1. Spend Solo Time Thinking About Strategy
Your desire for time away from people can useful, if you can use the space to "become more self-aware and clearer about the positions and motivations of others," writes Kahnweiler. One way to do this is by using the time to deeply consider where others are coming from, what their secret motivations are, and how you can influence them or help them achieve their goals.
2. Use the Power of One-on-One Conversations
Big meetings, which can be intimidating for introverts, aren't the only place to get things done. Often, they're not even the best place. According to Kahnweiler, "Discussions that don’t happen in large groups but do off the factory floor and outside the conference room are more effective" in helping people get to know you and increasing comfort levels, as well as "solving problems, working through conflicts and asking for what you need." Consider placing an emphasis on smaller conversations, which can be a powerful force.
3. Notice Who the Other 'Quiet Influencers' Are
When people are constantly talking or at the center of the conversation, it's easy to miss the quiet influencers lingering on the edges. That's where fellow introverts have an advantage. Use your highly developed observational skills to find those who may not speak the loudest, but who "provoke new thoughts, create change and challenge others," writes Kahnweiler. They may have some of the most interesting, well-developed opinions and ideas for your business.
4. Identify What You Want to Change
Another benefit to time spent observing is being able to identify what's actually holding you back. One of Kahnweiler's clients realized that she needed to change how others were perceiving her, so she incorporated techniques from actors. "She slowed her breath down, raised her voice a level and increased her eye contact with others throughout the day," writes Kahnweiler, which helped people see her as "a highly competent and strong contributor."
5. Make the Most of Social Networking
Today, your physical presence is only part of your brand as a leader. Introverts may take more naturally to social media, where "others can get to know as much about you as you care to share. Developing a robust online presence "also helps you to achieve visibility that might be difficult to gain in person," Kahnweiler concludes. On Twitter, after all, it doesn't matter if you get tongue-tied after a few sentences; you only have to keep it up for 140 characters.