One of my favorite ways to describe the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is related to a person’s communication style and approach to problem solving. Someone who is generally an extrovert will talk to think, and an introvert will think to talk. I wish I could remember where I heard about this difference for the first time. I would love to credit them here, but unfortunately I don’t recall. If you type “talk to think” into your favorite search engine, you will find several articles on the subject. What I want to talk about today is how an introvert can leverage the tendency to think to talk and turn it into a superpower. You can be an introvert, and quietly stand out from the back of the room.
When it comes to standing out in a crowd, often the person who is talking most will be the person who gets the most attention. This can seem to be a disadvantage for the introvert whose communication style requires quite a bit of thinking before they land on what they want to say.
The extravert: Talk to think
There are so many examples of high level leaders who really put themselves out there as their authentic extroverted self. They are very visible, make wonderful dynamic leaders, and are often fun to be around. What this looks like at work is that the extroverts will speak more in meetings than the introverts. They will brainstorm out loud. This can be wonderful because you know exactly what’s on their mind. In extreme cases it can also cause them to take over a conversation and prevent others from contributing. An extrovert will raise their hand first. Answer a question first, all while the introvert is quietly considering their answer and listening to the conversation.
The Introvert: Think to talk
Introverts tend to be quieter and not call attention to themselves in a group. The thinking and considering they do before they speak can cause them to appear slow to respond. They often aren’t the first to speak up, or volunteer for an assignment. An introvert will listen, consider the problem at hand, think about the possible solutions and formulate what they want to say.
While quiet, an introverted mind will be going a mile a minute, just like the extravert’s voice. In some cases they may not formulate what they want to say during a live discussion, and therefore won’t speak at all in that particular meeting. You might get their input a few hours later. In other cases the introvert might wait for a pause in the conversation and quietly say “I have an idea”. Usually what they say next is quite well thought out and full of value. It has been internally pondered and practiced.
Many introverts believe they won’t or can’t become leaders because of these tendencies to be quiet. You’re wrong.
You can stand out as introvert.
I am an introvert. I definitely think to talk, and for a long time I believed that I was not meant to be a leader. I was described as extremely quiet. I thought I would work as an individual contributor for extraverted leaders my whole life. However, throughout my career I have learned that being an introvert is my superpower. I use my introverted nature to stand out from the back of the room without changing the nature of my introverted-ness. I don’t need to pretend to be an extravert. I honor who I am and tailor my approach accordingly. And I lead.
How? Think to talk, and don’t forget to talk.
- I think through a situation before I talk.
- I ask about and consider other people’s opinions to give myself more input into my perspective.
- I try to listen to everyone who’s speaking (this takes practice, effort and focus for me).
- I notice other introverts in the room and make note that I want to reach out to them one on one to make sure their ideas are heard and considered.
- I manage my schedule and how I do work to align with my need to think.
- I schedule more one-on-one meetings than I do group meetings. When I am trying to solve a particular problem, before I hold a group session, I sit down alone and brainstorm my thoughts ahead of time.
- I hold one on one conversations with others before I pull a group together so that I can be sure to have more input going in, rather than less.
So if you are an introvert, plan your week accordingly. Give yourself plenty of focus time just to think. Honor your desire for more one on one conversations and schedule more of those than group meetings. Be willing to sit quietly in a meeting for the entire meeting without judging yourself. Collect your thoughts and share your perspective when you’ve had the chance to formulate your thoughts. When you have something to say (you’ve thought it through), then say it! It is sure to be full of value so don’t be afraid.
But be careful. There are a few pitfalls I’ve discovered when thinking to talk that you want to watch for.
- The first is that you have thought through your idea so carefully that you are 100% sure that it’s the right way to go. An introvert may be very sure of the direction, and can get upset if the idea is not selected. I’ve been a victim of this thinking myself. “But I’ve thought this through so carefully, of course I know how we should address the problem! Why aren’t they listening to me?”
- Second. You spend so much time thinking that you don’t end up talking at all. The result can be that your voice is never heard. Cultivate the bravery to speak up at the right times for your organization and their goals.
- Third. You are in your head and miss what others are saying. It’s important to know yourself well enough to know how much time you need for reflection so that you make time to hear others too.
Introverts observe others stepping out and taking the lead. Raising their hand first. Doing most of the taking. Showing what they know.
Just know that the ideas a quiet person has are just as brilliant and well thought out and as shared in this Harvard Business Review article, they can actually result in a team producing better results.
As an introvert your job is to know yourself and structure your day to your strengths. One on one conversations, carefully thought out ideas, and plenty of focus time will help build trust and position you as a strong leader. Don’t be afraid to embrace your introvert power, think to talk, and lead quietly from the back of the room.