“The squeaky wheel gets the grease”
If you grew up in the East End of London as my family and I did, you would have heard many people use this old American adage. Used to convey the idea that the most noticeable (or loudest) problems are the ones more likely to get attention, this metaphor is commonly referenced in my Guardian Masterclasses on introversion in the workplace to describe the unfair advantage most louder colleagues receive.
However, this attitude starts long before our time in employment. It actually begins in school.
You remember that kid who was always praised by your teacher for raising their hand in class. How about the one rewarded for reading in front of the class. You almost certainly remember the children during recess or lunch who were seen as having better social skills than the child engaging in solitary play.
This imbalance of recognition and reward for outspokenness and dynamism has wormed its way into our place of work and has subsequently created a communication divide between two personality types: introverts and extroverts.
Introversion and extroversion
Introverts are described as tending to enjoy quiet concentration, listening more than they talk, and thinking before they speak, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain adds that introverts have a more “circumspect and cautious approach to risk”.
Alternatively, extroverts are described by Cain as “energised by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.”
As leaders, actively adapting your workplace culture to treat these differences as assets – rather than as barriers to be overcome – can have a profound effect on the productivity and wellbeing of your workforce. More broadly however, there are things we as introverts can do to unleash our quiet power at work. Here are my top three tips:
1. Practice name-calling
Remote video calls can be a hotbed of competitive peacocking where confident speakers can hog the mic without pause for breath. If you wish to raise a point and struggle to find a polite way to cut in, simply say the name of the person speaking (or thank the person who last spoke) to interject instead of saying “sorry” to introduce yourself. You’ll be amazed at its effectiveness.
2. The pen is mightier than your thoughts
Extroverts are naturally more adept than introverts at self-promotion – I’ll give them that. The result can be costly for introverts who are actively applying for roles or seeking new business. My tip here is to publish ‘think piece’ articles on credible sites like LinkedIn and Medium on a subject matter of expertise. Share widely with connections, welcoming comments, to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
3. Be seen and heard
As the hybrid way of work continues to be our norm, you may develop anxieties related to being isolated or unseen. You’re not alone. A 2020 survey from Indeed found that 37% of employees at companies with an embedded remote working culture believe that this work style hinders visibility. This means you have to be more intentional about putting yourself out there, promoting your achievements, and sharing what your team is doing with the rest of the company. Scheduling regular check-ins with influential colleagues in your team or wider organisation can help to ensure you maintain visibility and stay front of mind to those calling the shots.
Black introvert Week UK founder and personal branding coach, Richard Etienne hosts the Guardian Masterclass series sessions Self-promotion for introverts and How to succeed as an introvert professional.
Follow Richard’s brand awareness blog, where you can download free eBooks on introversion empowerment.