Introverts are awesome.
Just ask me, I am one. Susan Cain agrees. She’s one too.
As awesome as we are, there are times that our introversion gets in the way. When we need to introduce ourselves to strangers. When someone wants to make small talk with us in an elevator. When we need to start a conversation, or worse yet figure out how to gracefully end one.
Maybe someday the world will come around, and we’ll all be allowed to work from wherever our hearts desire (a cabin nestled alongside a mountain stream in a remote section of the Rockies, just saying), but until then most of us work in organizations and buildings that have other people in them.
Maybe you have one of those introvert dream jobs, like writer or college professor, where you don’t have to interact with other human beings at all. Even still, there are occasions in your life when other people are a necessity. I don’t think Starbucks delivers (yet), although I’m sure Amazon is working on it.
Maybe the drones will actually the make the coffee in mid-flight, so that it arrives piping hot.
There are times when acting like an extrovert can help us be more effective. I’m not suggesting that’s the way it should be. In a perfect world, we could all be our fully authentic selves and be just as effective. I am suggesting that that’s the way it is.
The Availability Bias is Pre-Installed at the Factory
There’s a cognitive heuristic called the availability bias that leads us to make decisions based on the information that comes to mind most quickly, rather than on more objective criteria.
We won’t think twice about getting into a car, but there’s a twinge of nervousness every time we board a plane, because something about a plane crash somewhere was in our news feed recently.
Meanwhile, data shows that we’re far more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport.
Murder sells a lot of commercials for the local TV news.
Steph Curry is the greatest pure shooter in the history of basketball. Maybe, maybe not. But he certainly is the most recent. Old-timers where I live will insist that Rick Mount would’ve taken him to the cleaners in a game of H-O-R-S-E. Of course, there may be another cognitive heuristic at play there (the old-timer bias?).
Steph Curry sells a lot of tickets. Rick Mount? Not so much.
Extroverts are memorable. Dynamic. Gregarious. Engaging.
Think of someone you interacted with today. Who’s the first person that comes to mind? They came to mind quickly because your interaction was memorable.
He told a joke and made you laugh.
She complimented you and made you smile.
They did something… something extroverted…. that made you feel better about yourself.
As an introvert, the only way I tend to make other people feel is ignored. Not so memorable.
Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, managers are human beings, and subject to the availability bias just like the rest of us.
When managers and leaders fall prey to this cognitive shortcut, who suddenly become the best performers in the group? Extroverts. Why? They’re more memorable.
Who deserves the promotion? An extrovert. Why? She pops right to mind.
Who should get assigned to the cool new autonomous toothbrush project? An extrovert. Why? He loves cool new stuff!
It may not be fair, but our brains weren’t designed for fairness.
How to Act Extroverted and Be More Memorable
If you’re an introvert, you can’t be an extrovert. But you can act like one when you need to. Here’s how.
Smile. When you pass someone in the hallway, smile at them. When you greet a colleague as you’re walking into the office, smile as you say “Good morning.” Run into an old acquaintance in the cafeteria? Smile when you first make eye contact.
This isn’t natural for introverts. We generally don’t smile at people, even on the rare occasion that we’re truly happy to see them. So it will take practice — do it in front of a mirror until it looks genuine.
The key is the eyes. Genuine smiles always show up as wrinkles in the outside corners of your eyes. George Clooney is the master of this. Now that is a genuine smile. Just look at that — he’s absolutely thrilled to be with the paparazzi.
Fake a smile in the mirror, then think of something that truly makes you smile. See the difference? Keep working on your fake smile until you don’t see a difference anymore.
Engage in small talk. Extroverts love small talk. Introverts would rather claw out their own eyeballs.
The weather. The weekend. Little Johnny’s baseball game. Oh please kill me now.
Why do extroverts love small talk so much? They must just care about the weather more than us introverts, right?
Extroverts don’t just engage in small talk, they use it.
They don’t care any more about the weather than anybody else, they’re just using that as a means of figuring us out. When we say something about it being a great day for golf, they file that little tidbit away. Now they know how to connect with us down the road when we’re working on a project together — golf.
Extroverts use small talk so that they can more effectively connect and engage with us when they need to.
There’s no magic here. Introverts can do this to, it just won’t feel natural. Stop seeing small talk as a waste of time, and start seeing it as an opportunity to build a connection. Later, you can use that connection to influence a favor.
Ask questions. Extroverts are truly interested in other people, and they ask lots of questions to learn more about the person they’re interacting with. Again, similar to what they get out of small talk, they file this information away for use later.
Introverts tend to ask tangible questions about things and events. What happened next? What did you do about it? What impact does this have on the product?
Extroverts tend to ask intangible questions about people and feelings. Who seemed opposed to the idea? How did you feel? What impact does this have on the people?
Ask more questions. Invest in learning more about the person you’re interacting with. As much as they like to learn about other people, extroverts also love it when other people take a genuine interest in learning about them.
This has the added side benefit of taking the pressure off of you. When you ask a question, the attention is on the other person. Right where you want it.
Unless you’re an extrovert, it isn’t easy to act like one. While the behaviors may be fairly straightforward and relatively easy to practice and learn, they can also be exhausting.
It takes a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological energy for an introvert to behave in extroverted ways, even for a short period of time.
So give yourself room. Schedule time during your day to wallow in your introversion. Go for a walk outside — by yourself. Take a long lunch, either by yourself or with another introvert. Give yourself downtime to recover from all of your newfound extroversion.
The availability bias isn’t just for extroverts — introverts can learn to take advantage of it too. Even though it’s exhausting, it’ll be well worth it.