You’ll never see me centre stage at a company meeting… Why? Because I’m very much on the introverted side of the introvert/extrovert spectrum. I don’t mind social, high stimulus environments from time to time, but they definitely don’t energise me.
Introverts make up 30-50% of the population, and are defined as being at their best (and most comfortable) in in low-key environments. But that’s not really how we think of the classic consultant – someone bold, compelling, outgoing, results oriented – in short… an extroverted personality.
That shouldn’t really come as a surprise – our workplaces are generally set up for extroverts (think open plan offices, constant meetings, workshops and conference calls). Even more broadly, our society rewards extroverts. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain talks about the fact that, in a group environment, the idea that a group is most likely to support is the one recommended by the most charismatic person in the room – which sadly, may or may not be the best idea on the table.
So – what can an introverted consultant add to the mix?
- A different perspective – introverts will naturally seek to create their own thinking time – which brings with it new concepts, creativity and avoids the pitfalls of “group-think”. All of this means that they are able to see things from another perspective and come up with a new approach
- Noticing the subtleties others miss – introverts may not be their best in a big meeting, but they will often notice subtle pointers that might be missed by an extrovert bouncing with energy
- Building deep client relationships – introverts are generally much more comfortable in 1:1 meetings, where they can really get to the heart of the issue, which can make them great coaches and confidants to clients
- Creating a meritocracy – Susan Cain also highlights a study by the University of Pennsylvania, which shows that introverted leaders are more likely to let employees explore their ideas – and the researchers suggest that this makes introverts better at leading and motivating initiative-takers who might be put off by someone who wants their own ideas to take centre stage.
If introverts can bring all of these things to the workplace, how can we get the most from them? For me there are two obvious places to start…
Firstly, create quiet spaces – we don’t all love a buzzing office every day. Never be afraid to leave your desk for an hour or two to go to a free meeting room/quiet space for some thinking time!
Secondly, mix up teams – personally, I love working with extroverts – they want to do all the stuff I find hard! :) – more seriously, I know a few people who would hate being asked to get their head down and write a 100-page report – by mixing up the teams, we not only cover each other’s weak spots, but also learn from people who are at their best in the environments we find hardest.
There is no such thing as perfect ‘personality mould’ for a consultant – recognising this, and creating an environment where everyone thrives is the only way to create the best and brightest version of your firm.