This is a guest post from Will Chou of willyoulaugh.com.

Introvert.
That’s what I am labeled as. And usually, it’s not a good thing. Most of the Western world seems to view this classification as a handicap towards success.

It sucks when you’re too shy to network or even talk to anyone during a social event. It kills you afterward because you know it’s holding you back in your professional life, social life, and dating life. (That said, introversion and shyness are not the same thing, but we’ll get to that in a bit).

To deal with my own shyness and introversion, I picked up two popular books that offer advice to introverts and define introverted to begin with: Quiet: The Power of Introverts and Introversion Power. Both authors are well-known influencers in this space. In fact, the author of the first book, Susan Cain, gave a TED talk that was viewed over 22 million times online. Clearly, there’s a lot of interest.

I wanted to share with you some of the most powerful lessons I learned from these books and some tips I’ve learned from my own experiences.

Introverts Are Not a Minority

Introverts are not as rare as you might think. One of the largest studies ever conducted on the topic of introversion found that 49.3% of people are extroverts and 51.7% are introverts in the United States. Generally, introverts are described as people who get their energy from being alone, while extroverts are energized by being around other people. At its core, introversion vs. extroversion really has nothing to do with shyness, social awkwardness, or charisma.

“A quiet mind is the loudest.” -Stephen Hawking

In fact, many of the most successful, influential people in history are introverts. They have contributed to science’s greatest discoveries, art’s greatest masterpieces, and technology’s greatest advancements. Many tech entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates, prefer alone time. 

Another study found that pizza stores managed by extroverts achieved 16% higher profits than those managed by introverts, but only when the employees were passive types that never took any initiative. When introverted leaders worked with those who wanted to improve work procedures, their stores outperformed the stores by extroverts by 14 percent.

Finally, studies have found that introverts are more successful with some cognitive tasks, but not because they’re smarter. The studies suggested that it’s because introverted subjects take more time to look at a problem, analyze mistakes, and persevere.

That said, modern psychologists don’t even fully agree with the simple “Introvert vs. Extrovert” categorization that Carl Jung developed. This is not a binary trait–you can be a mixture of both. While I do think these categorizations will persist, it’s useful to know that we can be ambiverts, mixtures of both groups.

How Culture Impacts Introversion Vs. Extroversion

We live in a culture that encourages extroversion despite the fact that a large percentage of Americans are indeed introverts. Why is this?

First, authors suggest it’s partly due to an “emperor has no clothes” bias. A large portion of the room may be introverts, but everyone believes they’re different, so they put on extroverted personas. In addition, there’s something called a hyper-focus bias that might play a role, too. You may tend to focus on the people who are the life of the party by the nature of their energy. In the process, you can fail to notice the group of introverts present, especially when you’re so insecure about yourself.

This discovery shocked me because it’s easy for me to feel like I’m the only one who isn’t outgoing in a social gathering. Turns out, many of us are in the same boat.

Cain explains that, In Eastern Asian countries, the culture is flipped. Rather than praising people who are outspoken and sociable, people are praised for staying quiet because it shows that you are wise and humble. People who are calm, relaxed, and quiet are honored because these behaviors show that they are mature. In fact, antidepressants fail to sell in Japan, because of the Japanese view that depression is a sign of honor because you are shouldering sadness and suffering. That’s not exactly a good thing, but it goes to show how your environment can influence your behavior.

Point is, the culture we are born into plays a large role in whether we feel shame or pride around our introversion or extroversion. The environment you’re in may matter more than your nature.

Introversion and Learning to Speak Up

If you sit in on any Harvard Business School class, you’ll quickly realize they reward extroversion. They have a participation system that scores people based on how often they contribute to a discussion. The same system occurred in many of my high school English classes and may be familiar to you as well.

The problem with this system is that it rewards speaking up rather than actually having something useful to say. An outgoing individual can dominate a conversation with a flood of ineffective ideas. A quiet individual can have a brilliant idea but fail to speak because he or she is scared of rejection or talked over by an extrovert. It’s our responsibility as introverts to stand up for ourselves and find a way to get our point across. We can blame the world, our parents, or the system for our situation, but that won’t offer any results.

As I reflect on my own experiences, I’ve found that my fear of speaking up has little to do with the need to spend time alone to recharge. Instead, it has to do with my memories of rejection. I have to overcome my fear of being disregarded or talked over to move forward. The past is not the future. Nowadays, I may be competent enough to have something valuable to say and be around people who are friendly enough to listen. It’s my duty to realize this difference and speak up.

Sometimes, it’s more than an introvert issue; it can be a psychological and social issue.

Common Introvert Problems

Before we cover how to channel our introvert powers, we should identify some other common introvert problems:

  • Introverts can find office chat draining or unproductive. This can be tough in cultures where open door policies and company events involving small talk are encouraged.
  • Introverts can sometimes fail to stand up for themselves or respond to attacks. They turn to their inner world instead.
  • Introverts sometimes identify by being part of niche groups that are outside of the norm, like nerds, geeks, goths, emos, or anime lovers.

Introverts have to navigate an extrovert world. They struggle to not offend extrovert friends when it comes to social events by leaving early or declining to go. Introverts can be misinterpreted as being rude, cold, or having nothing to say when they’re really reflecting on what’s being said before they respond or they’re just shy.

These issues don’t define introverted people, they’re just a byproduct of what it means to be introverted. In other words, these problems are only natural when you’re an introvert at heart. If you feel a lack of energy being around other people, it’s no wonder you’ll find certain social scenarios draining and difficult to navigate.

This explains why so many introverts do describe themselves as shy, but shyness is just a habit. Even if you’re an introvert, you can overcome that habit and any of the other issues associated with introversion.

Being Introverted Doesn’t Mean You’re Shy

Recently, I went to a meetup of ambitious professionals who followed Ramit Sethi’s personal finance blog. During the event, I noticed a man who was quiet and shy. To get him to open up, I engaged him with a topic he would identify with: introversion. It worked.

I started talking about my thoughts on introversion and he immediately launched into a rant about how being shy is VERY DIFFERENT from being an introvert. I investigated later on and found out he was right:

  • Introverts require alone time to gain energy.
  • Extroverts gain energy from being around others.
  • Shyness is not about either of these. It’s about feeling scared to talk to someone or a group because you are self-conscious.

Therefore, you can be a shy extrovert or a non-shy introvert. Introversion and extroversion are only categorizing where you get your energy from, not how socially confident or skilled you are.
Like me, plenty of people mix these up all the time–they define introverted as being shy and socially awkward.

Nonetheless, I realized that my problem wasn’t introversion as much as it was shyness. I was struggling with being too shy and scared to talk to people.

My biggest realization was that extroverts can often be socially unskilled, too. We tend to assume they’re all amazing at social skills, but that’s a myth. After all, charisma is just a skill, too.

How To Master Introvert Strengths

I believe introverts carry the stereotype of being socially inept because many have less social experience and prefer to be alone. I’ve personally spent a ridiculous amount of time alone playing computer games, and many of my fellow nerds have done the same.

That said, a savvy introvert can channel his or her strengths to be more socially intelligent.
As an introvert, you likely have strengths that extroverts don’t. These include your ability to actively listen, reflect, and empathize with others.

Leverage Your Listening Skills

You can use that to your advantage. For instance, you can be more diplomatic, empathetic, and a better listener.

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet, has worked with all types of introverts, from hedge fund managers to Ivy League business graduates, on improving their negotiation skills. One Ivy League graduate thought her introversion held her back in a predominantly extroverted industry. By teaching this young professional to embrace her personality and leverage her introvert strengths, she shined in the job interview by actively listening more than the others and got a coveted job offer.

Leverage Your Attention to Detail

One study tested introverts versus extroverts on identifying numerical patterns. They found that introverts slowed down when they made mistakes, learned, and corrected.

But extroverts sped up when they made mistakes, even though they made more mistakes when they did speed up. Researchers suggested this happened because they thought being faster would help (even though it did the opposite).

Therefore, you can gain an edge at work, in social settings, or at any skill by taking advantage of your methodical attention to detail, which is important in almost every field, from art to business to relationships. Use it. Also, you can make sure extroverts make fewer mistakes when you work or manage them, now that you know they’re prone to speeding up.

Leverage Your Empathy

Introverts, are typically more willing to listen to others and understand them. Use this to your advantage. Most people love to talk, be heard, and be understood. Often, they are frustrated with the scarcity of people who actually listen to them.

Most people only pretend to listen because they are waiting to respond and want to deliver their own message. By showing that you actually heard what someone said and care about it, you’re standing out. Find people who really value this and you’ll be able to deliver more value (and get that value back).

Understand the Feedback That Works Best For You

Extroverts rate competitive people more positively, while introverts rate supportive people more positively. Extroverts, on average, prefer abrasive phrases said to motivate them like, “You can do better than that!” Introverts, on the other hand, prefer soothing encouragement like, “Keep up the good work.”

It helps to understand what kind of feedback motivates you best. If you’re an introvert, chances are, you’re better motivated by more empathetic feedback, and you can use that to your advantage.

Or if you’re coaching others, ask whether they describe themselves as introverted or extroverted. This way, you can use the right feedback on them, something that actually helps them (and prevents you from rubbing them the wrong way). Make sure you choose the right coaching environment that aligns with your style.

Change Your Habits, Not Your Personality

Like anybody else, introverts still have to be social enough to work with others effectively. As tempting as it is to think you can hide in a cave your whole life and succeed professionally, humans are a social species and business relies on interactions. For example, Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, has encouraged introverts to push their comfort zone and speak up so their great ideas don’t get lost.

But this doesn’t mean that you have to become an extrovert. In fact, it may be better to have a mixture of both traits. It just means tweaking your habits, not your entire personality.

Good luck, fellow introvert. Let me know if you have found anything new that helps. We could all use some help.

Will Chou is a self-development blogger at willyoulaugh.com. Get his free gift specially made for Kristin’s readers at willyoulaugh.com/wong.

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