How we work: Sarai on leading as an introvert

Speaking softly has its merits when you run a business or lead a team.
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I’ve bought into a lot of wrongheaded ideas over the course of my life.

As a kid, I bought into the idea that you could not be creative and also interested in math or science. My schools told me you were one or the other: left brain or right brain.

As a teenager, I bought into the idea (though I might not have admitted it at the time) that having a boyfriend was the true marker of a girl’s worth and desirability.

As an adult, I bought into the idea that you cannot be a leader and an introvert. I believed I needed to change my personality, or let someone else take charge.

Today’s article is part of a new series we’re running called How We Work. In this series, we’ll be talking with each member of our team and learning about who they are, what they do, and their philosophy towards their work here at Colette.

I am an introvert. That word is incredibly charged for me, because for most of my life it’s something I’ve been ashamed of, something I thought was wrong with me.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve craved time alone with nothing more than my thoughts and imagination. Even though I loved my friends and enjoyed playing with other kids, I equally loved spending time by myself making flower crowns or playing with dolls and not speaking to anyone for hours.

Undoubtedly, I think my parents and adults must have wondered what was wrong with me. As a grown person, I get the feeling people still do.

If you’re an introvert, you probably know what I’m talking about. No matter how relaxed and happy you feel at a party, there’s always some smiling, friendly stranger coming up to you and asking why you’re not talking enough, causing you to wonder if there really is something wrong with the way you are.

The book Quiet by Susan Cain truly opened my eyes to what it means to be an introvert. In that book, the author points out that a big difference between extroverts and introverts is that extroverts feel energized by being around people. Introverts need considerable downtime to be alone with their thoughts and “recover” from the draining effect of social interaction.

sarai-fitting

When I read that book, I felt I finally understood something about my personality that was a little fuzzy before. I thought everyone felt depleted by social interaction, but some people just got over it a lot better than me. I was just inadequate.

It turns out, not only are a huge number of people built this way, but it has a lot of advantages. Introverts tend to be really good at processing information, at thinking things through, at writing. They value deep relationships over networking. They listen more than they talk.

The best leaders I’ve worked with trust their team. They don’t tell you what to do, but instead ask genuinely useful questions. They solve problems, they help when they’re needed, they’re collaborative, and they don’t let their egos eclipse their mission. They bring out your creativity instead of pretending they know it all. This is the sort of person I try to be.

This is not the sort of leader you see in the media. Yet, there seems to be evidence that many of the best leaders have traits that might be considered introverted.

In his ground breaking research on successful CEOs, Jim Collins found that the most successful leaders – those responsible for huge sustained performance improvements in their organization – were not the brash larger-than-life public figures that we hear so much about.

Instead, they were people that coupled a soft-spoken, modest demeanor with an incredibly strong will. They’re hard working, steel-willed, energetic, and yet totally unassuming. They are not necessarily what you’d expect.

sarai-notebook

Unfortunately, I think it’s much more difficult for women with this sort of personality to rise through the ranks in the corporate world. It’s hard to get recognition as a woman in many organizations, and women are forced to walk an extremely fine line and have a very specific personality to get ahead in most companies. Assertive, but not too assertive. Opinionated, but not too opinionated. Loud, but not too loud.

In other words, women are judged as much for their personality – or even their manner of speaking – as they are for their ideas.

But when you start your own company, you create the culture. You can value the traits of all different kinds of people, and you can make a space for people not to be punished because they aren’t the loudest in the room. Because I am certainly not the loudest person in the room, pretty much ever.

Perhaps if we had more female leaders in business, this kind of inclusiveness would be commonplace. Not because women are more likely to be introverts (I have no idea if that’s true), but because they wouldn’t be punished for it.

Then maybe the next time a study like Jim Collins’ finds that the best leaders are big thinkers rather than big personalities, perhaps just one of those brilliant, strong, gentle leaders will be a woman.

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

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Comments 79

Katie agirlnamedkatie.com

Great Post! I can relate to you. I like being social, one on one, but I really thrive in the time I spend just working on my own projects alone. I feel like this has held me back in business because I have not been actively speaking about what I am working on or my products. This year I have been really challenging myself to get better at marketing and meeting other small business owners at local meet ups. It can be discouraging when others are getting ahead in business because they are better at networking.

Sarai colettehq.com

One of the things the book Quiet points out is that introverts can be really good at networking and communicating online vs. in person.

I am really not great at the whole networking thing, which is probably read as snobbishness or unfriendliness at times, or just shyness at other times. On the other hand, I think it leaves more time for real relationships, which I like.

Julie

What a great viewpoint. The Quiet book also changed how I understood and valued my own introverted self. (It’s similar to how sewing has shown me that I’m not “shaped weird” because off-the-rack clothes don’t fit; I just need X and Y adjustment because most everyone varies from the base pattern shape.) Now I deliberately set aside alone time and avoid feeling guilty for leaving certain parties early. It helps me store up energy for the friends and work that matter most. I’ve been self-employed for about a year and it’s been more compatible with my personality — I can save social energy for important client meetings, instead of frittering it away at the everyday break room conversations. And after a day working from home I truly crave going out to meet friends for dinner. But I still struggle with society’s strong preference for extroversion. Some folks have a hard time understanding that while social interactions cost me energy, I still LIKE them. I still need to see my friends to be happy. I’m just tired afterward and look forward to PJs and a book.

Sarai colettehq.com

That’s a great analogy to sewing! Excellent point.

Sabrina sabrinawhartonbrown.wordpress.com

It’s really good that you posted this article Sarai. I can relate and I’m sure many other sewists can too. :)

Being an introvert has often, I believe, held me back in my attempts to get a job, mostly because it seems like 90%+ of jobs where I live are retail or front-of-house, and I’ve always been told I’m too shy; it’s even on my school reports from primary school.

The thing is, I work much better with a small group of familiar friends (Rowan Atkinson is the same, and he seems very nice when he’s not Mr Bean), where we each have a role to play but help each other where we can. I can get on with my work, the others get on with theirs, and we progress through our projects. I do like talking with people, especially intelligent people.

I have got better at talking to new people over the last two years as I did my degree, and I like to meet new and varied people now, but there is no substitute for real friends.

Insofar as strangers go, sometimes I can talk naturally with them for hours, and some people I never can hold a conversation with — it depends on the person, and, I think, how intelligent they are. Extroverts cheer me up, but then so do quieter, gentler people, just in a different way.

I think there is definitely a place for introverts in this world. There was a time people thought women had no place in business, but now most people will agree that that is daft. Maybe the same will happen for us deeper souls and the world will realise you don’t have to be loud to be heard.

Sarai colettehq.com

I will say that working retail for a few years did help me learn to talk to strangers! I learned it’s actually pretty easy if you are genuinely interested in them instead of stuck in your own head. That’s something that I’ve definitely carried with me, and it’s helped me with public speaking too.

Nethwen

Re: Shy on a report card.

I grew up around people who didn’t swear and we didn’t watch movies with swearing. But, people were extremely vigilant not to use shy to describe their children. I was in college before I realized that to the rest of the world, the s-word was something different than it was in my social experience.

As for children, it was acceptable to be reserved, careful, quiet, anything but the “s-word.” Now, I reclaim shy as something good. Shy deer stay safer and such.

Marilla marillawalker.blogspot.co.uk

Lovely post! I get so confused about whether or not I’m a true introvert. I spend long periods at home with my kids and don’t feel I need to seek out company, but then I also love catching up with friends and meeting new people. If I were socialising everyday then I would find it draining and frustrating to not be able to do my own thing, but really enjoy it when it’s at a time of my choosing. Of course in his day and age I’m socialising all the time on social media, but i can walk away and still get on with things when I need to ;-)

Sarai colettehq.com

You bring up a good point… people like to put themselves and others in boxes, but these personality traits are really a spectrum, aren’t they?

Jessie

It’s possible to be very social and still be an introvert. My understanding is that it has more to do with where you get your energy and less to do with how much you like to interact with other people. So a social introvert might love meeting new people, but need time alone afterwards to recharge, while an extrovert would be recharged by the social interaction.

Helen!

Exactly! That’s my persona exactly. I think I overcompensate being social because I am an introvert in so many ways. I love working with a small, intimate group of highly creative and intelligent people, not with those are trying to climb over each other. Not that there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m lousy at that. People think I’m very friendly and outgoing, but I enjoy a newspaper and a beer a lot more than a big party. Great post, Sarai!

QPlourde threadinglightlyblog.com

This is me exactly. People always thought there was something wrong with me – I was even forced to see a guidance counselor when I was in elementary school (starting at age 6) because I was too quiet. I have been battling this my whole life and only now in my 30’s am I starting to accept it’s okay. I recently got my MBA, so I know what it’s like in the business world and how challenging it is to find my voice. Thank you for this post – it’s great to be assured I can still be a good leader even though I am an introvert. That book QUIET has been on my list forever. I think I need to get to it soon!

Sarai colettehq.com

Yeah, that sounds familiar. I remember once when I was in second or third grade, my parents told me that another adult had come up to them and asked if I COULD talk. I remember feeling really humiliated and ashamed of myself.

Julie

I, too, thought there was something wrong with me for most of my life. I was forever coming up with excuses as to why I couldn’t participate in things like school reunions, parties, etc. My “resting bitch face” has been misinterpreted more times than I can count. I remember once in school being singled out in a class for “looking bored” when, in fact, I was very interested in the class and truly enjoying it. Quiet and The Introvert’s Way have been tremendous boons to my self confidence and made me less afraid to look after myself and take my alone time when I need it. Great post, Sarai!

Sarai colettehq.com

Reminds me of all the times I was young and people (usually men) would come up and tell me to “smile.” For some reason, being quiet makes people feel like they have a right to tell you how to feel (also, being female).

Lisa G.

This is interesting. But I think it’s also the men who make the most noise, so to speak, also, who get places. Unfortunately, this is increasingly the way things work in our society. No one seems to value quietness; a quiet, thinking person would never get anywhere in this world the way it is now in politics. Hopefully, things will change someday. I heard someone say once that the ideal person to be President is someone who doesn’t want to be.

Sarai colettehq.com

Generally, that’s probably true. Men do tend to display more confidence because it’s how we’re socialized. On the other hand, there have been some great male leaders who have a quiet demeanor (like in the study linked above on Harvard Business Review). But women with these same traits face a lot more challenges.

Stephani

There may be something in our society’s makeup, too, that values knowing what everyone is thinking at all times. Those who are constantly talking apparently can’t keep anything to themselves and probably aren’t capable of hiding anything (or so the thinking may go). But a quiet, introspective person observing everyone else from a corner, removed from the fray–who knows what they’re thinking? It can be quite intimidating or even unsettling to others. Unfortunately, many people don’t see the value of the latter, and overvalue the former.

crab&bee crabandbee.com

I’d love to hear more about how you started Colette and the particular challenges/triumphs you faced as an introvert – have you written about that before? I know you’ve mentioned in the past that you’d always wanted to start your own business. I don’t often meet people who are more introverted than I, but in the last year I’ve been making a huge effort to use my strengths at work and speak up when I know I have something to say instead of keeping my ideas to myself. I’d love to hear more about your path in business!

Sarai colettehq.com

Thanks, I’d love to write more about that in the future. :)

Yvonne

You describe exactly how I feel. I do think that we introverts have a lot of qualities that are widely overseen because we are not that loud. I once worked in a theatre and was the assistant to the director. He was a very loud, outgoing and choleric person ( I know that sounds cliched). My experience was on the one hand awful, cause he couldn’t see my qualities and was awful to me. But on the other hand everyone else really loved working with me. Instead of screaming his instructions from the stage I talked with everyone in person and gave feedback. The sound engineer even told me that working with me was the nicest experience ever.
Now I’m applying for new jobs along with mostly 100 to 300 other contestants. And I clearly have no chance at all. This is really the point where being an introvert does not pay off because I’ m simply overlooked and not that good at networking for my own sake. If I ever had the chance to get a leading role I would know how to treat people well and how to cherish the different personalities in my team. But right now I’m not in the position where my qualities are able to shine through.
How lucky your team is to have this supportive working environment that you created. You can tell from everything that Colette puts out, that you Sarai are a wonderful and inspiring person and your team is just equally gorgous.

Sarai colettehq.com

I’m sorry you had that experience, but it is interesting to see the differences in how people respond, isn’t it? That’s the sort of story I would personally love to hear in a job interview. :)

Deb H

I haven’t read her book however I did watch the TED talk. This site, http://www.quietrev.com/, has been informative and thought provoking. It is very liberating to read others experiences and helpful ideas on how to help yourself through situations that introverts find difficult.
The strange looks are hard to ignore but the comments on how quiet I am just make me smile. As a kid I would just shrug and tell them I didn’t want to talk. My parents never pressured me to be more outgoing and were happy to indulge my love of reading and being alone with my imagination.
It is harder as an adult.
Perhaps as we understand ourselves better we will be able to help others understand introverts better as well. Great post Sarai, thank you!

Amber

Thank you so much for sharing this Sarai! I can relate to it all because I’m an introvert through and through. I was telling my boyfriend yesterday that I wish I had the chops to start my own business (not really sure if I do), because I’d like the freedom to be myself when I’m working without someone above me treating me like I have a disease that needs to be cured. It makes me so happy to know that you create a space for introverts to flourish at your company :) I look forward to the rest of the posts in this series!

Linda

As a parent of a 12 yo introvert, thank you so much for this post! I will get the book ‘Quiet’ that you mentioned and she and i will both understand her better, i am sure! Thanks again

Carie spaceforthebutterflies.com

oh this is so true for me too – I’m management level at work and I’d never manage to be big and brash, but it sounds like I can make that a success- fingers crossed !!

Sarai colettehq.com

I’ve had a lot of managers, and the two that stand out in my mind as being the best were warm, self-effacing, curious, and supportive. They were universally admired, knew what they were doing, and brought out great work in their team. I think the most important aspect of leadership is one that’s usually overlooked: you’re there to help other people find their best work and work together. To me, introverts are often naturally gifted at these things.

(though not exclusively, extroverts can be great at serving others too!)

Shelby sewfall.wordpress.com

“Quiet” was such an important turning point for me. I’d spent most of my life thinking something was wrong with me and feeling guilty for turning down social invitations (or sometimes miserable when attending them anyway). It was a huge relief to discover that I wasn’t the only one, and that needing to be alone a great deal of the time isn’t actually a defect. For the same reason, I’m always delighted to learn about other introverts out in the world–so thanks for sharing this, Sarai!

Melissa craftrambler.blogspot.com

Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing!

beckyjopdx

oh, I get this. I get this in spades. For the longest time, I really thought I was an outgoing person. That was mostly the alcohol talking. I still get jittery/nervous when I have to engage, and being I don’t drink anymore, I can recognize it for what it is…I can try to downshift that nervous energy, and hold it at bay for a couple hours….long enough to pretend during an event or something. I will even come across as outgoing and talkative, which is mostly my nerves trying to fill the air. However, as soon as it’s over, I need to recharge for a long time. At work I sit next to a sales engineer who is the same way – we keep our little corner away from the gregarious sales people and let them whoop it up, and we enjoy it from our safe corner together. This is also why I choose to work from home a few days a week. What some see as social, I feel as interruptions. While I don’t mind and I love working with my coworkers, I need to have my time to buckle down and concentrate.

beckyjopdx

ALSO! how many times have you been standing there, quiet, concentrating or listening, and you get the “smile!” comment? As if they assume you’re unhappy because you’re quiet…or assume you’re angry. I know I get RBF really bad…and that’s just tough. That’s my face. I was born with it. I choose to give people the benefit of the doubt because I know what’s it’s like to not receive it. :)

Anne-Rose

Great article and thank you for reminding me about Quiet, I need to pick up that book! I can really relate to what you have written here, for a number of years, I was part of a small team, of which I was the only introvert. My main activities were rather extrovert as well (providing training and hosting presentations), although it could be very tiring and I required a lot of down time, l did learn a lot during these years as well. One of the great things we did as a team was host MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) training sessions for teams within our organisation, which taught me a lot about myself as well as help me better understand my extrovert colleagues.

Yoshino theyoshinocherry.blogspot.com

I honestly believe that the american media causes the need to label everything. why? the media is always sneakily trying to create a mold that is placed on a pedestal and they present it as cool, and in and basically the best thing ever. this also creates distortion… distortion with self image, self awareness, and communication. that causes so many issues. They are always beating you over the head with celebrities and how amazing they are but generally most celebs are extroverted especially for the one hour everyday when they’re on TV. What does this obsessive celebrity coverage do to a nation? it distorts everything, people start seeing people as labels before they see them as a person. example: “she/he tries to recycle and produce less waste, filthy hippies!” or “omg crazy cat lady, so weird” or “he still lives with his mom, eww” …the label comes before seeing the person as a peer. the media also causes egotistical and defensive behavior because “you’re an individual and you don’t take shit from anyone”. At the heart of media and commercialization is the insidious goal to make you feel bad about everything. EVERYTHING. because that gets you spending. Also the TV shows, movies and music are the ones that distorts our way of thinking. the commercials are presented after they all have done their job. The conditioning doesn’t switch off when the TV turns off. it continues in the way we act and treat others. however, its not just television, its everywhere. so everyone starts to act like the outgoing celebs without even realizing it and when a slightly different person comes along , they get teased and insulted and…labelled and that causes self conscious behavior. I can go on for days. I am extremely introverted with strangers but normal and silly and joke cracking with people who are close to me.I do struggle with communicating sometimes and I’m still trying to figure out a good way of presenting myself to the world and treating people as people and not labels.

Darlene

Thank you! Great article and so true. I’m also a fellow introvert. In the unenlightened 60s I was steered towards trade school instead of university because of my introversion. So a secretary I became but worked myself up through large corporations to become the PA for the vice-president. An extrovert who had a chaotic style. The best compliment I ever received from a boss was from her – she said I had a peaceful soul, whenever I worked with her I created calm and clarity and organization. When I left they hired a PhD to replace me! I was lucky my whole family are introverts except for one sister, who always wanted to go out, party, never stayed home, always wanted to DO something – we thought she was the odd one!

Fiona

Sarai, your post is, as ever, very thoughtful, intelligent and relevant. Reading “Quiet” was, for me, a true turning point also. What I have taken away from Susan’s book has, in the last 12 months, really helped me to accept myself for who I am and to reach a much greater contentment in my life. The preference for extroversion in the traditional arena of my work life (I’m trained as a lawyer) was something I battled with for years. Happily, over the last year I’ve come to find a way of working in my field that allows me to be myself to a much greater degree – which has a positive effect on my work – and to make room for other experiences in my life that complement that. You and your business are truly inspirational. Keep on with that! You deserve great recognition as a business leader.

kristin skirtastop.com

wow sarai this post gave me chills, it just rings so true! i worked in an industry that valued the “finders” (extroverted salespeople) far more than us “minders” (introverted analytical types). the finders got higher pay, promotions, and recognition while the minders were often a footnote to their success (even though we were the ones in the office crunching numbers while they were out golfing). i had one manager that was a great example of the type of leader you’ve talked about here, though, and my confidence and skills grew exponentially under his leadership even though he was an introvert himself. he made sure my voice was heard and was a supportive cheerleader for me to upper management. amazing what a difference a person like that makes to your job satisfaction and success!

i also love the points about not pigeonholing yourself with labels you’ve heard as a kid – we’re all a mix of things and i don’t think i figured that out either until i turned 30. ;)

anyway, thanks for the fantastic article. i have some book reading/TED watching to do now!

Stina P stinap.com

So interesting tot read – both your post Sarai and the comments. I think, that the world needs more introverts. I think we need the balance of introverts and extroverts – some people to watch out for the wolfs and some to bring the clan forwards. But I guess that it can be more difficult to be an introvert in the US, which I see as a very extrovert country (Susan Cain as well. :) ) where extroversion is so highly rewarded. Europe is more quiet, especially the Nordic countries and Sweden where I live, but extroversion is still seen as a bit “better”. And people find it hard to believe I’m an introvert just because I also like to talk, give lectures and lead projects. (But I do need to refill my energy afterwards…)

What bugs me most is when people think we are sitting rocking in a corner when we are “being introvert”. They don’t understand that we have the best company present – ourselves.

Sarai colettehq.com

That’s true… I had an internship at a German company when I was in grad school, and the culture was very different. They generally perceived Americans as being a bit phony, I think.

Stina P stinap.com

I wouldn’t say phony. If I should generalise extremely much (and please, no one take offence) I would describe Americans as happy puppies. Whilst the people in the Nordic countries perhaps are more like cats – we only cuddle when we want to. (And that would also explain why so many seamstresses like cats. :) )

Julie

It’s so great to know there are so many of us out there! I always thought there was something wrong with me. My teachers and other parents would say I never spoke , was too shy & I got that all the way through school. Now the teachers say the same about my kids. Reading Quiet has helped me try to explain to my kids that it’s ok being introvert and be more confident in who they are, I hope.

Trisha

This post has touched a lot of people! I, too, am an introvert working in a retail environment in a male dominated company.
My annual reviews always contain something negative about my personality, which puzzles me, because my performance is always rated as positive. It seems that I am too quiet, I need to socialize and have more friends, and I should hang out with people from work outside of work! I’ve been told to watch my facial expressions because they aren’t friendly enough, to have more facetime with people instead of email because nobody reads them (!), that I need to talk more…but be more friendly when I do talk….geez. What really shocked me was the way my company felt they had the right to tell me that my social life and introverted personality are inferior in some way. No mention of my work was made. Just my lack of social interactions. I am seen as unhappy and need “fixing” because I’m quiet. Strangely, one of my company’s core values is “Be Yourself”.

Sarai colettehq.com

It seems like a lot of issues come from people not recognizing that diversity is really powerful, including diverse personalities and ways of communicating.

I guess it could get in the way if your team perceived you as not liking them, there were hurt feelings, etc. But that just comes down to awareness, doesn’t it?

Jessica ayenforcraft.blogspot.com

Oh – I can definitely relate to this! At my last organization I realized that my introversion made some of my coworkers uncomfortable, and I found myself pushing myself to do more small talk (ugh) just to keep things feeling OK around the office. It was a bit like, “Why isn’t she engaging in the same amount of water coolering as the rest of us? What’s going on there?” I’ve also often struggled in work meetings because I’m not the type to pipe up just to have said something … I’d prefer to speak up if I actually have something to contribute, but I also realized that there are some bosses/team leads who are very extroverted who were very wedded to an extroverted meeting/contribution style. So that was another adaptive element I learned, always finding something to say at meetings.

Things were always so much better in 1-on-1 settings.

Mary

Just brilliant, inspiring and ‘All that!’ Thank you

Karen livinginserendipity.com

So amazing to hear my own story over and over! I’ve been quiet my whole life, and I wasn’t born with a smiley face. When my face is just ‘as is’, I can’t tell you how many people have made the smile comment to me or ‘It’s not that bad is it?’ grrrrr….. I work at home, I love it. I’ve created my home to be a place I love to be. But ‘friends’ and mother-in-laws tell me I need to get out at least once a day. Why? To do what? I have work at home that needs doing. But, it is good to know that introverts can become successful, without being extra over the top in personality. I love good conversation one on one, but chatting and small talk with a large group put me very ill at ease. It’s not interesting. I have good friends and a great husband and I’m good with that.

I have found though, that since I’ve been online, I find it much easier to ‘talk’ to people and that has also affected my offline life. I’m more outgoing than I used to be and I can handle a bit a chatting here and there or initiating conversation. But I”m also 56, so it has taken a while. :)

Margaret Crawford

Wow!! So profound. I think I identify with this personality trait. I love being around people but I I truly enjoy my solitude. There is peace in the quiet that surrounds me and gets me ready to enjoy the company of others again. Thanks for expressing it so well.

Stephani

Great post, Sarai. I am a classic introvert. I get completely drained by a volume of social interactions beyond the everyday norm I experience at the office. I’ve always been very self-contained, and I don’t really need the company of others on a regular basis. What I need is alone time to recharge myself. I may not have chosen the best career for an introvert (journalism), because I have to act quite extroverted in many situations. My work personality is more extroverted than I ever thought I could be by necessity. And it’s draining, but I’ve adapted. I look at it as another tool in my toolbox/weapon in my arsenal. Much of the time I get to be my natural introverted self, however, and many of my colleagues fall somewhere on the introversion spectrum, too; so they get it. And most of my colleagues are women.
Most of the introverts I’ve ever met understand what they are and their own needs; but try explaining introversion to an extrovert. My father is very gregarious and didn’t always grasp my social limits. Luckily, my mother is very much like me, so when she explained what being an introvert meant to her, it was like a light bulb went on in my head. I recognized myself, and I was allowed to grow up understanding that it was okay to take my alone time when I needed it. Actually, there was a fantastic cartoon going around Facebook a while back that illustrated introversion perfectly; here it is: http://www.fastcocreate.com/1683402/your-guide-to-interacting-with-an-introvert.

Sarai colettehq.com

That cartoon’s very cute! The only thing that didn’t totally resonate is that I LOVE being around extroverts. I’d say more than half of my closest friends in life have been extroverted. I think a lot of extroverts appreciate someone who gives and listens, and I appreciate someone who takes the pressure off me to be “on”… because they’re naturally that way. :)

French Toast Tasha tashamillergriffith.com

I agree with that—I’d much rather have at least one extroverted friend at a dinner party, it frees me up to listen and observe, instead of worrying that I should come up with something to fill the silences!

Sandy magpiestitcher.wordpress.com

EXACTLY how you reassure a cat! Yes . . . we do like to sit to the side and think about things, before engaging.

jen instagram.com

Thanks for the link! I’m going to start asking people to respect my hamster ball! :)

Isaboe Renoir

My husband and I are also introverts; our friends and family don’t understand our decision to be “social recluses”, but we love them anyway! We definitely need a lot of time to recharge after social interactions, even just going to the grocery can be draining to me – can’t we just say good morning to each other and be done? We are very much happy in our own or only each other’s company for long periods of time. In fact when people ask what we’re going to in our retirement, we say we’re going to be hermits!

I used to get a lot of the “smile!” comments, not so much any more, not sure why. Glad I don’t though! By the by, Ms. Manners has an excellent come back for that – “Tell me something witty I’ve never heard before…” gotta love her!

It’s good of you to share your experiences as a leader; it’s similar to my own and I’m sure others will benefit greatly, even if they’re not in management themselves. My co-workers and employees used to think I was weak and ineffectual; but once they realized I only spoke up when I had something enlightening or helpful to say, they learned to recognize that often the loudest and most direct people were just covering up that they didn’t know anything, and were afraid others would find out. Or they’re just narcissists who need the attention… I hope the rest of society figures that out one day.

Sarai colettehq.com

Haha, love the Miss Manners line, I’m going to use that!

Catsandpizza

I share the same experience and when they tell me to smile, my answer is:
– I am already smiling inside.

Kathleen

I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Susan Cain speak at the Global Leadership Summit in 2014. While I’m not one who would be described as an introvert feeding as I do off social interaction, I fully understand the notion of ‘don’t be quiet/don’t be thoughtful/don’t be introspective’ as those are qualities (quiet/thoughtful/introspective) my husband possesses – which, I’m certain, is the reason he is the leader he is! By the way, Sarai, as a leader, you really might want to check out the Global Leadership Summit @ willowcreek.com/events/leadership. Thanks for your wonderful tips on sewing and for all your insightful posts!

Sarai colettehq.com

Thanks for the recommendation!

Susan

Thank you, Sarai, for your thoughts on being an introvert and the benefits of being an introvert and a leader. I really enjoyed reading it and thinking about your comments.

French Toast Tasha tashamillergriffith.com

I too am an introvert, more shy than anything I think, and always have been. Although I will happily spend lots of time with the people I love, being around strangers/being “on” is really tiring for me, sometimes I don’t even want to run errands!

One thing I’ve discovered is that through teaching, I can interact and bond with people right after I meet them, which isn’t my norm at all, but it feels great. When I have a good class, I go home tired but also happy and energized, so I guess I see a bit of the extrovert side of things.

Thanks for posting this. Your writing is very thoughtful, and I love knowing that there are other introverts out there who’ve succeeded as leaders!

Lissa Brooks

I was the exact same way growing up. Always feeling as if something was wrong with me or like other people just couldn’t understand me. I still feel that way, really. I’ve always worked equally on the left and right sides of my brain. I excelled at both art and math from junior high into college. I never quite fit in with either group for that reason. And I’m most certainly an introvert. Though I do sometimes feel energized by social interaction, that’s only because I rarely get any. For the most part, I need a lot of down time alone (maybe not quite as much as I actually get, though). I wilt at large gatherings unless there’s a corner I can hide in. When I AM energized by social interaction, it’s on a small scale. Like talking to the checkout person or someone in line. That little bit is enough to make me feel not quite as alienated.

Anna Rodriguez

Wow! I have just been thinking about introvert vs. extrovert this week. Sarai, I am so excited to read the book Quiet that you mention. Also, I totally identify with the feeling of something being “wrong” because I am an introvert. Luckily, I have a few other introvert friends who I can talk openly about this with and who understand what it is like to need space. For me it has always been a struggle with balancing being alone, but not feeling lonely.

Sarai colettehq.com

Good, I hope you like it! The TED talk is also really good, a nice intro to the concepts of the book.

Ola restlesscat.wordpress.com

Thank you so much for this post!
I was always the quiet child and it was never a problem for myself rather people didn’t know how to deal with it. I experienced that being an introvert is in point of view of other people usually a negative thing but I managed so far that I can switch from the listening person to a bubbly speaking one, when it’s necessary. I can spend hours doing something I’m excited about without feeling the need to talk to someone… I hope just more people could understand that there are also people who rather think through different ideas before suggesting something which is just crap in the end.

Jessica ayenforcraft.blogspot.com

As someone said earlier, clearly this post touched many people! Introversion and the workplace was definitely something I struggled with in my last job. We had so many meetings and the two top leaders in the organization were both extremely extroverted. Organizations where I’ve been successful are ones where there are multiple ways for providing input – not overly meeting’d (which tends to favor extroverts, in my opinion, b/c I often need time to process before I can react to a proposal/idea/etc.) and yet collaborative. As tough as the last job was for me, I came to appreciate all the ways that extroverts excel in areas where I naturally don’t do well … but also, and perhaps more importantly, appreciated that there are many ways where introverts complement extroverts (LOL, muahahaha, they NEED us!!!) I agree, though, that many of the qualities of good/effective leaders can be found in introverts. After all, if part of leading is allowing people to do their best work, and if extroverts and introverts can contribute different (and both-needed) skills/experiences/talents, then we certainly need someone who can ask questions, help people find their natural fit, and bring all the pieces together!

Understanding extroversion and introversion has helped me better understand the important people in my life. My mom, for example, is very extroverted, so there are times when I know she really needs to talk out an issue because that’s how she processes, by talking. Whereas my dad or brother (or I) could stew on an idea forever, and so you know that when they finally come to you, it’s going to be a very different conversation.

Kelly

This is a very compelling piece for me. Thank you :)

angela

Exactly, even Gods voice is described as the “still small voice”, the quiet inner voice that we all know.

Eluned sewabaloo.com

I loved this post and really related to it. I always hesitate to chime in with my “me too!” when I read an article about being introverted, but this time … me too!

I’m just starting out with my own company and I hope to be able to grow and develop it in the way that best suits me and my need for quiet and space.

Cindy

OMG!!!!!!! First I went right to my library website – thank goodness I can order books online and pick them up at the drive thru.
This post has me written all over it I was so “shy” when I was young that I had to have other people ask where the bathroom was when out in public even my sister who was 8 years younger than me at the time. lol
My mom – God bless her – was a “social butterfly” when lived, breathed and thrived off of other people and here she had a daughter who was the complete opposite – my sister however is just like my mom – and she definitely thought there was something wrong with me or that I wasn’t trying or retreating/hiding blah blah blah. And her attempts and there were quite a few to get me out and social ended up nightmarish disasters and made me miserable. But she kept on at it and till finally after her last blind date attempt I said that is enough – I was maybe 19 at the time and she pretty much left me alone after that.
I get really cranky if I don’t have “me alone time” and would rather be home by myself doing my thing then having to go out. Give me a good book, movie, binge watching, creating, etc. and I am happy as can be.
My hubby needs to be around others – baby in the family – and he has finally stop pushing me to “get out” and he just goes his merry way doing his thing without me and we are both happy.
Now if I could get him to leave our 22 year old son alone – who is completely and totally like me – and let him just “be” – he is getting there just not quite yet – then things would be golden.
If we could just not label others, except who they are and let them “be” who they are meant to be and want to me the world would be a much better place.
One more thing WOW about the “quiet leaders” making the most impact, I think of Warren Buffet hugely successful very quiet about it and he had a whole lot of people helping and advising him, who he listened too and I think that added to his success and his companies too.
Great fantastic article and at 55 I finally “get it” and will continue to go on and do my “thing” and be happy about it too.
Thanks again.

Sarai colettehq.com

Oh yeah, Warren Buffet is a great example! He seems like such an interesting public figure.

Weston

Wow – Just another “quiet” one here, stunned by the number of comments, wondering if you get so many on the newest pattern or maybe you’ve found a secret commonality running through the sewist community . . .

Amy

I am 56 years old and have known for many years I am introverted. I have never thought there was anything wrong with me – but I have always envied extroverts and the energy they have in social situations. I am able to push myself out of my comfort zone – I enjoy giving presentations to large groups of people, I can easily strike up short conversations with strangers, and I LOVE hosting parties/events. Because I can do these things, no one believes me when I say I am an introvert. When I took the Myers Briggs test years ago I scored as an extreme introvert…practically off the chart (as in, one cannot be anymore introverted!). Taking that test made the light bulb go on – I finally understood why after doing extroverted things I am extremely exhausted…actually, it is more like a hangover (headache, achey body, tired, tummy uneasiness, and emotionally sensitive). The older I get, the more “me” time I need. I’ve just spent the past five days in an intense “social” situation (grand baby born with some minor medical issues after 61 hours of labor); yesterday I had reached my limit of social interaction – I HAD to be alone not only to process all the events that had occurred but also to recharge my batteries. I doubt my daughter-in-law’s family understands it; I think they were offended when I excused myself but I physically and emotionally could not tolerate another second of human interaction. I know my limits; I try to stay within those limits to avoid “crashing and burning.” But sometimes life interrupts and you just have to go with the flow…then spend two or more days recuperating!!! It’s time for me to start recuperating from the past week!

JessieRoo

Such a good topic-it’s been really interesting to read everyone’s thoughts on it. While I’ve had a few totally positive work place responses to my being totally introverted/private/shy, most of my coworkers’ and managers’ reactions have been overwhelmingly negative. In my longest running job to date, doing retail at a super busy bakery-which, surprisingly, I loved (that is, the work itself-there were lots of un-loveable aspects to the position over all), my coworkers would regularly complain, claiming I was constantly silently judging them, simply because I didn’t butt in to every single conversation that took place throughout the day as they often would; or because I rarely disclosed anything very personal about myself. Remarks about my supposed lack of social skills were quite common, which, from my point of view, seemed to say more about the speaker’s social skills than mine; along with a lot of comments on how undesirable I was making myself. Ironically, customers routinely pulled me aside to thank me for listening to their questions and concerns, and giving solid advice and answers, rather than turning every conversation to myself. Also, I think I must’ve gotten hit on/asked out (in not-icky ways) or invited out in a just-friendly manner more than any of my coworkers. However, several other places I’ve worked were staffed by very temperamentally diverse, yet genuinely kind hearted, understanding, and over-all awesome people who would go out of their way to accommodate everyone else’s idiosyncrasies.

Olalah Njenga yellowwoodgroup.com

Absolutely beautifully written and right on the money. Well done. I’m an INTJ (extremely rare for a woman, much less a woman CEO) and I related to everything in your post. I love my friends. I also love the bliss of a few hours of nothingness – just my thoughts and the silence. Bravo for putting it out there.

Elizabeth

Great discussion. Are shy and introverted the same thing? I’m not always introverted but am extremely shy. I think the shyness comes out in nervousness and talking. I hate being put on the spot but have learned over the years to cover with some aplomb I think. I’m the person who prefers a quiet talk in the pub with a couple of friends rather than racing around the clubs. As for time alone – yes please. Normally my kids float between me and the ex but at the moment they seem to be here all the time. I love them dearly, but that one afternoon last week when there was no-one around. Well Michael Buble and I had a splendid time! :) Love the mag, patterns and blog Sarai.

Sarai colettehq.com

I don’t consider them the same thing. Introverted people just need more downtime from interaction in order to restore their energy, but aren’t necessarily shy. I think the two often coincide though, because introverts need more processing and thinking time and don’t like to be put on the spot, like you say.

Personally, I think introversion leads to shyness in a lot of kids, but I think shyness can be changed through experience. I think introversion itself is more intrinsic.

Ginger

Sari, Thank you for this post. And for the Quiet book recommendation. I can relate to so many things that you have posted. I used to get so annoyed when people would tell me to smile or ask what was wrong. In addition to being introverted I am also very shy, until I get to know you. I could totally be friends in real life with so many of you above.

Amy clothhabit.com

Interesting topic, Sarai! I too am an introvert, and I can certainly relate to your story—elementary school teachers concerned about my daydreaming, strangers telling me to smile, lighten up, etc. (which just happened to me today on the way out of the gym! smile? no thank you, I’m plumb worn out…). It’s so wonderful that you’ve been able to craft a business with your strengths.

In professions and cultures where extrovertedness is highly valued and rewarded I always burned out quickly but thankfully I figured out early on as an adult that I was better suited to more contemplative kinds of work, solo occupations (like writing) or work that involved small intimate groups.

Just to be fair, however, I am married to an extremely charismatic extrovert and he is a highly sensitive, listening, and “bring out the best in people” leader. When we started a non-profit together I trusted him to build the team around us because he is so good at tuning into others’ strengths, especially the quiet people! So I’m not sure competitiveness is an extroverted trait or cooperativeness a particularly introverted trait, which the Quiet book implies. Leadership and team skills are a world of their own and I have been in environments with both introvert and extrovert leaders who have a lot to learn about sensitive people-leading. And I have served with great ones!

I am guessing that this book came as a needed relief for introverted entrepreneurs who are burning out on the hustle, especially online. There is so much well-meaning advice everywhere these days on how to build a business, network, and attract attention in the social media world but so much of this advice is often coming from extroverts who truly enjoy it. I really crave hearing practical business/work/social media management advice from the introverts, too. So thank you for sharing from your work experience.

On a side note, there was a good post this week on the Quiet blog about cultural values in leadership… http://www.quietrev.com/quiet-professional-looking-abroad/ It resonated with me as I lived in Czech Republic for several years and I felt so much more at home in my introvertedness than I do in Texas!

Sheryl

I’m so glad I read this today. I thought it was just me…..I must investigate this Quiet book…and the blog. I have it pointed out to me regularly (by my own family too) that I don’t talk much, should stand up for myself, should go out more , I’ve even been accused of being boring :-( . My grandfather understood me but he is no longer here. One of my sons is the like this too and gets the same treatment. Thank you, with all these lovely people commenting, I don’t feel on my own x

Sarai colettehq.com

It’s terrible that they called you boring! How rude.

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