Can You Hear Me NOW?: The Struggle of Introverts to Find Their Voice in the Workplace
MBA Training Associate
You’ve heard the sayings. We all have.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Blow your own trumpet.
Play to the crowd.
The list goes on and on. In essence, the message being conveyed by these sayings is that you have to be a standout, that finding a way to separate yourself from the crowd is essential to getting ahead. In doing so, you have to be an excellent salesperson in order to convince others of your value and worth.
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well for some people like John, it can feel like a horrible nightmare. John works in Accounting. He has been employed at the same company for 10 years. In fact, John has spent his entire 10 years in the same department. John arrives on time, rarely calls in sick, and crunches numbers like no one’s business. John has seen quite a bit of turnover in his department in the last 10 years, yet he’s remained steadfast and and loyal. Committed to a fault, you might say. He’s the best at what he does, but he’s a pretty quiet guy. John doesn’t get caught up in office gossip and he doesn’t socialize much with his coworkers outside of office hours. He tends to form real relationships with others and personally invests himself in everything he does. If you were to ask anyone in the department about John, they would all describe him as knowledgeable. He’s usually selected to train new hires on the ins and outs of the job. Ironically, John has yet to be selected for a promotion. He’s had his eye on that corner office since he was hired and believes that he’s more than qualified to move up in the company. He continues to toil away, day after day, hoping that his opportunity will soon come.
You see, “John” is a fictional character, but his experiences are the reality for many. John fits the description of an introvert. Introverts are often described as quiet, reserved, and thoughtful. They don’t seek out social engagements or undue attention, as they have limited toleration for stimulation. They prefer to be around smaller groups with more intimate interaction and conversation. Introverts can appear as the complete antithesis to those employees who are comfortable with marketing and selling themselves. For this reason, introverts–as talented and qualified as they may be–are habitually overlooked for promotions.
Author Susan Cain discussed this phenomenon in astonishing detail in her 2013 New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She historically examined how charisma and extroversion came to be so highly favored in society. She even devoted an entire chapter to The Myth of Charismatic Leadership. Her book revealed how undervalued introverts are. Through discussion of contemporary research, she responsibly highlighted the benefits of introversion, such as creativity, introversion, and perseverance. Throughout her book, she interviewed several prominent individuals who identify as introverts. Their conversations revealed both the challenges and the benefits that introversion has brought to their personal and professional lives.
Ilya Pozin, the founder of Pluto TV, outlined four reasons why introverts make great leaders in her 2018 contributing article to Inc.com. Those reasons include 1) being motivated by productivity instead of ambition, 2) building more meaningful connections, 3) not getting easily distracted, and 4) solving problems in thoroughness rather than in haste.
So it seems that there’s hope indeed for John and everyone like John. But that hope hinges on organizations understanding the importance of intentionally recognizing people like John. People who possess talents and abilities but may not seek out the spotlight, people who may not be the life of the office party, people who are thoughtfully devoted to doing things the right way. It would behoove companies to really take stock of the power of their introverted employees rather than continuing to favor and promote those who are extroverted. If they don’t, managers and executives could find themselves lamenting a very popular saying: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”