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Identifying as a creative introvert adds another level of isolation from the accepted culture at the office. What are some of the common myths that creative introverts have to dispel, and what are some ways they can empower themselves in an extrovert focused environment?

What is an introvert?

Introversion is commonly seen as a condition for people who do not like being around people and are socially awkward. It is less about preferences and more about energy.

Charlotte Sferruzza outlines in her article on Medium, “How being an introvert made me a better designer,” that an introversion is different than from shyness. Introverts find energy in their “inner selves.” They do not hate people or are socially awkward. Social interactions require more energy, and they need alone time to recharge.

What do our workplaces tend to reward?

Corporate culture tends to favor those who show leadership behavior. The people who actively participate in meetings, initiate changes, and facilitate exchanges tend to draw the attention of management. In turn, leadership rewards them with raises and promotions. At least, this is the view from introverts who feel that they do not always have a fair playing field for showcasing their talents.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain emphasizes that companies often perceive introverts as “not leadership material” and overlooked for those positions.

What is the workplace actually like?

According to an article in the ‘Observer’, 50% of the general workforce is introverted. The percentage of extroverts rises to 22% at the executive level. This might confirm an observation some may have had of certain people getting ahead simply because they are friendly. The hardworking introverts toil in their same positions for years.

In that same article, it states that extroverts are more likely to be groomed for leadership positions. However, at the management level, introverts outperform their extrovert counterparts.

What are the traits of a creative introvert?

Listening is a key skill. We require people in a creative position to do this. We need to set guidelines on how to do this effectively.

Some of the things that creatives, specifically design researchers, can improve are better questions. To find meaningful solutions for our clients, we need to help them figure out what they need. This is best approached with a few key approaches.

Learn how to craft more effective questions with, A Beautiful Question and The Coaching Habit.

Listening for better empathy. If you prefer to listen and observe, use this to your advantage. Using questions strategically, you can direct your co-worker, research participant, stakeholder, etc. to do most of the talking. Leverage that time to notice things like postures and behaviors. I have used this technique to help the researchers on my team to think out problems and the steps they feel are feasible.

Encourage people to talk less and act more

Workshop complex ideas instead of just talking about them. Some meetings are dominated by extroverts. The tendency is to talk in circles, and most of the time the participants feel that nothing gets accomplished. You can interrupt this pattern by nudging the participants to whiteboard the issues. I have used simple research techniques such as card sorting to help meeting participants group and prioritize ideas that they would have otherwise debated endlessly.

What can a creative introvert do to be more successful

How can introverts take more control of their work and careers? Patrick Moran is the Chief Creative Officer at Quip and a self-proclaimed introvert. He explains in his post on, “Introspection at the top: lessons from a seriously introverted marketing exec,” Patrick offers a few pieces of advice for those who need ways to navigate a career path dominated by extroverts.

Embrace it. Decide if your default is introversion or extroversion. This requires some self-awareness. You can start with a few personality tests (i.e. DISC and Myers-Briggs). Introverts need to embrace their identity. Tell people who work with you and find ways to fill in the gaps.

Simple things to empower creative introverts

Practice breaking out of your defaults once a week. Ambitious introverts will want to prove they can perform just as well as extroverts in meeting and presentations. Schedule in time to do things that are uncomfortable. Introverts tend to avoid presentations in front of large groups. Find ways to practice and fail in smaller groups to refine the message and craft the skill of communicating a clear message.

Time block periods in the day to do work and recharge. This is something I have learned to do after I started leading people. I realized that I needed to be sharp with my team. After some time, I noticed that I was talking a lot. This was draining my energy and affecting the quality of my work. I then put in blocks of time at the beginning of the day to do work that requires focus.

Interested in more posts on bringing creativity into work? Check these posts.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.