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A Practical Guide to Influence for Introverts
6 ways to capitalize on your strengths
Introverts have received the short end of the stick for over a century, in an age where persona is valued above — and often mistaken for — character. As Susan Cain demonstrates in her book, Quiet, the shift towards urbanization in the early 20th Century gave birth to a culture of impersonalization, disconnecting those of us with a preference for depth, calm and reflection and rewarding the loudest voice, regardless of the quality of its message.
This cultural shift makes it tempting for us introverts to put on an extroverted performance when we want to wield influence.
When the push for immediacy replaces the need for depth, the extrovert shines. Their ability to socialize broadly and communicate loudly gives them a significant advantage.
But, more so now than ever, introverts have the capacity to add incredible and rare value in an ever-skeptical world. Battered by fake news, clickbait, and populist narrative, we’re in search of veracity.
As introverts, our natural traits are perfectly placed to provide the world with what it needs — a calm, considered approach to progress. If we are willing to be true to our talents, we are capable of influencing without forcing ourselves into the extrovert model.
What is Influence?
Influence has become synonymous with extroversion. We are taught that to influence, we must behave with gravitas. We must project our opinions and qualities upon anyone who’ll listen. We must stand out from the crowd and be seen.
These strict guidelines about how to be influential are perpetuated throughout our school, work, and social lives. We’re told we must ceaselessly exhibit extroverted behavior in order to be significant.
But when we look to a dictionary definition of influence, we see that over time we have warped the very essence of the word.
Notice that this sentence does not instruct on how to be influential. It merely states the outcome of influence — that character, development, or behavior somehow change as a result of something. There’s no reference to how or why that character, development, or behavior has changed — simply the fact that it has.
Two Types of Influence.
If we take the word at its base level, we open our minds to alternative approaches. There is more than one way to be influential, and it doesn’t have to be rooted in extroversion.
Simon Sinek, author of the bestselling book Start With Why, surmises that human behavior can be influenced in one of two distinct ways — through inspiration or through manipulation.
I agree with the premise of his argument, although for our purposes I find the word ‘manipulation’ somewhat negative. Instead, we shall label the two avenues ‘inspiration’ and ‘persuasion’.
The key difference between the two is in the delivery. In simple terms, to inspire is to show — to demonstrate a better path through consistent action. To persuade is to tell — to explain a better path through convincing words.
Inspiration as an influencing tactic is more hard won than persuasion. It requires the desire and capacity to deeply understand the needs of another party in order to offer a solution that matches their requirements. Inspiration takes time, dedication and patience.
Persuasion, however, is the method of choice when time, opportunity and capacity are limited. We see it in politics, in marketing, and in our working environment. At its worst, it’s the fear-mongering, deal-spinning, peer-pressuring technique to inciting action. At its best, it’s the presentation of facts in an engaging fashion. Used for good or for evil, it’s the quick-win approach to getting things done.
Persuasion, in its verbal form, lends itself to the extrovert. Their preference for speaking out, holding court and engaging an audience makes them well placed for the task. This doesn’t mean introverts are incapable of persuasion — we certainly hold the capacity to do these same things where necessary. But it takes a great deal of energy to do so and goes against our preferred behavior. For an introvert, staying in an extroverted state for too long is like trying to write all day with your non-dominant hand.
Introverts often find they are better able to persuade when using non-verbal forms of communication. The advent of digital technologies make this more achievable, but sometimes we don’t have a choice of medium.
Persuasion as a technique is at its most dangerous in competitive situations when something of great value is on the line. Ultimately, this can lead to assertions based in hype and conjecture, but we often fail to spot this until it’s too late and the votes have been counted.
By then, the heat of the moment has passed, and nothing of substance remains in the cool of the wake.
This skews the playing field in favor of the extrovert. In the working environment, for example, this happens in recruitment, especially in group assessment centers, and in performance appraisals, particularly when individuals are scored based on wider management group feedback.
As introverts, we are not well equipped to win what is essentially a personality contest.
At these times, we’re attempting to play a game of chess when all we have are pawns — the odds are stacked against us. In order to win, we need to play a different game.
The Fall of Coercion
Thankfully, the very prevalence of underhanded persuasion (where Mr Sinek’s word ‘manipulation’ is more apt) can be used to our advantage.
Subjected to coercion so frequently in our lives, in our work, and in our communities, everyone is in desperate search of veracity — of a sincere, more enduring voice.
We’re no longer willing to be swayed by bogus marketing messages, political backstabbing, and fake news. It begs the question: Who else is fooling me?
This question has far-reaching implications. For those less inclined to believe what sits merely upon the surface, it will determine how we choose to do business, how we make purchases as consumers, and how we form political opinions.
We’re tired of being coerced, and we’re searching for the voice of reason.
That’s where we step in, my introverted friends. When we choose to lean in to our preferred modus operandi, we become the very antithesis of coercion.
Given the choice, we’d rather inspire than persuade. Just as the extrovert holds the face cards in the game of persuasion, so do we in the game of inspiration.
We recognize that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We hold deliberate work in high regard. We believe in depth over breadth.
We’d rather wait patiently for a deeper connection than take the fool’s gold of instant gratification.
We are Aesop’s tortoise — slowly and steadily we shall win the race.
Applied authentically, introverted attributes hold the key to quiet and enduring inspiration. It won’t happen overnight, but day by day it’s not only possible — it’s inevitable — that we will accumulate the respect of others by being ourselves.
We are what the world needs, and we’re best placed for the task ahead if only we allow ourselves to be authentic.
Gina, AKA ‘Babes’.
I found out the hard way that facsimile is no replacement for veracity.
Several years back, as a trainee sales rep for a large consumer goods company, I was paired up for the day with Gina (name changed to protect identity) — the most true-blue extrovert I’ve ever met. She was everything that your mind conjures up when you think, ‘Salesperson’, and she was well-respected for her ability to sell anything to anyone, fast.
Each sales call we made that day went pretty much like this:
We enter the shop. The keeper, spotting Gina, takes a large intake of breath, preparing for the onslaught of noise and commotion he or she was about to endure.
“Babes, got something for you — do I need to waste both our time talking you through why you need it or shall I pop it straight on the shelf? Got the invoice ready babes.”
“Do what you’ve got to do Gina — that’s fine.”
“Fab, that’s perfect babes. Haven’t seen you since I got back from Spain have I babes, let me tell you all about it……”
The sale was made, just like that. No negotiation, no fuss. Simple, clean, efficient. My lesson that day seemed to be that if you beat your customers into submission, you’ll be viewed as the best salesperson in the company.
And that concluded my first day with Gina, otherwise known as Babes.
The Introverted Salesperson: A Contradiction In Terms?
When I got home I was exhausted, drained and shellshocked. I was also terrified. What on earth was I thinking signing myself up to this? It all seemed wrong to me — how is coercing a valuable customer into doing our bidding the best way to win in business?
But by that point, I had no choice other than to stick it out. In the post-financial crisis economy, I was damned lucky to have a job — let alone a well-paid one with what my teachers would have called ‘prospects’.
I needed to find a way to make it work, and fast.
For the first 6 months, I attempted to be just like Gina. I plastered on a smile each morning, topped myself up with caffeine at dangerously regular intervals and got stuck into being a pseudo-gregarious salesperson. I was exhausted, but I was getting OK results — enough to keep my head from the chop at least.
Then I crashed. Spectacularly. A nervous wreck, I couldn’t work for weeks.
Experiencing anxiety is a disturbingly common occurrence among introverts. When you spend your days pretending to be someone you’re not, eventually something has to give.
At this point, I had a choice to make. I could carry on as I was, and medicate myself up to the eyeballs and hope for the best. I could call it quits and wave bye-bye to corporate culture.
Or, I could try being myself and see how that worked out.
I chose the latter.
Coming Out of the Introvert Closet.
To exploit my talents as an introvert in a world that wasn’t built with me in mind, I needed to change my mindset. Instead of treating sales as a zero-sum game, I reframed it as a puzzle to be solved piece by piece, question by question. As my fake persona was getting me nowhere fast, I’d lean on my true character — a longer term strategy, sure, but one I could believe in.
It wasn’t easy at first. I dipped below the expected level of output and was put on the naughty list, disciplinary action ahead if I didn’t buck up my ideas etc. But over time, my customers warmed to me. They realized that I actually gave a damn about their business. I was asking questions not to bother them, but to gain insight into what they needed so that I could add value. My numbers were up, so my boss was happy.
I took on a side project as an analyst for the sales teams — a place where my introverted nature could (and did) shine. I started to get noticed and picked up a few high-profile advocates.
Quietly and deliberately, I was showing the business an alternative approach — a way of substance over bluster. By combining my natural inclination to inspire with my learned ability to persuade, I formed a powerful selling style.
Over a short amount of time, I was positioned in roles of increasing authority. By the age of 28, I was leading the implementation of a new global selling process for 26,000 sales reps (which did not advocate coercion as a winning sales strategy!). I became a successful sales professional, and an authentic introvert to boot.
The Pitfalls of Introversion.
I found a way to influence by leaning into my introversion instead of masking it. However, it wasn’t all easy sailing — there are still pitfalls to being an introvert.
But there are ways to manage ourselves intelligently that enable us to influence without submitting to pseudo-extroversion.
Specifically, I do these 6 things:
1. I listen, reflect, then speak up. The key here is the last step — speak up. This isn’t always easy as an ‘innie’ in a group of ‘outies’. But when I have something valuable to say, I find a way to make my voice heard. I might stay quiet for 95% of a meeting or conversation, but when I speak people listen. At work, I became known for my capacity to utter a single sentence and change the entire direction of a debate. The confidence I have in my skills as an introvert gained me much respect.
2. I build my relationships one by one. I’m aware that large group environments are not the best place for me to shine. Every single fruitful relationship I’ve built has been nurtured in a one-on-one environment. I actively create situations which allow this to happen — a catch up over coffee, a phone call, an email. Anywhere that allows the other person to hear me away from the distraction of noisy extroverts!
3. I save up my extroversion for when I need it the most. I’ve gotten to know my limits pretty well. When I need time alone, I find a way to get it. For example, when I worked in an open plan office, I’d book myself a meeting room for an hour whenever I needed space. Equally, if I can convey my message in written form (my preferred communication method), I’ll do so. That way, I can preserve my energy and extrovert when it’s needed the most — for example, in meetings, when presenting, or at social events.
4. I align myself most closely with the most extroverted. I know my power as an introvert. And I also know that I’m at my most powerful when I combine my skills with an opposing personality type. They pick up my slack and vice versa. When an introvert and an extrovert combine forces, nothing can stop them.
5. I choose roles and activities where my introversion can shine. I’m at my best when I have the space to work deeply, quietly and alone. Throughout my career, I have found ways to make this happen. Even in the most unlikely of places — for example, front line sales — it is possible to create the capacity for introversion to carry you forward if you look hard enough.
6. I find a way to believe in what I’m selling. Whatever line of work you are in, you are a salesperson. If you are an author, you must sell your ideas to your reader through your words. If you are a doctor, you must sell your expertise to concerned patients. But as introverts, we find it almost impossible to sell unless we deeply believe in the value of what we are offering. Even if we have no choice in the object or service we are selling, it is critical that we take the time to consider its value. Think deeply on the benefits you will bring to your client — internalize this belief and your influence will be far greater.
Embrace Your Authentic Self
If we can find it within ourselves to break the mold and be authentic introverts, with a little patience we will find a greater depth and breadth of influence. We’ve been gifted an opportunity to hone our extrovert skills by living in an extroverted world — in combination with our introversion we can ignite a powerful force.
The world is seeking our inspiration — who are we to hide our abilities under a cloak of false extroversion? This approach takes guts and patience but offers an enduring and genuine reputation for those willing to stay true to themselves.