Are You an Introvert at Work?

Are you an introvert? A surprising percentage of the population is. According to research reported in USA Today from CPP (formerly Consulting Psychologists Press), 50% of baby boomers are introverts.

Tag and Catherine Goulet

[ 2009-09-22 ]

Although the research shows younger generations are becoming increasing extroverted (extroverts make up 59% of those born from 1965 to 1981 and 62% of those born after 1981), introverts still make up a significant percentage of the workforce.

Yet according to leadership consultant Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, four out of five introverts say extroverts are more likely to get ahead where they work.

It’s not difficult to see why. Introverts find it tiring to be around people, so they may dread activities that are essential to getting ahead on the job, such as working in teams, attending meetings, talking on the telephone, giving presentations, or networking.

As a result, there’s a common misperception that people who are introverted are shy. In fact, introverts are simply people who prefer to spend time alone. Not everyone who's shy is introverted, and not everyone who’s charismatic and cheerful is extroverted.

In the October, 2009 issue of Psychology Today, journalist Jay Dixit quotes Sanjay Srivastava, a psychologist at the University of Oregon who says, "These things go together a lot, but they’re not perfect correlations."

Dixit explains that some extroverts love being around people but can get anxious among strangers "whereas true introverts find people exhausting." The problem is that shy people are "routinely misunderstood as cold, aloof, or stuck up."

To get ahead in the workplace, most introverts -- as well as shy extroverts -- can take a lesson from a group Psychology Today labels "bubbly introverts." Like all introverts, bubbly introverts prefer to spend alone. But to get ahead at work, they act like extroverts, speaking up and interacting effectively with other people.

In fact, introverts can be so effective in the workplace, they make up an estimated 40% of executives according to research reported in a 2006 USA Today article by Del Jones titled "Not all successful CEOs are extroverts."

Successful introverts in business and entertainment are reported to include: Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Diane Sawyer, Avon CEO Andrea Jung, and Home Depot CEO Bill Nardelli.

In her 2009 book The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, Jennifer Kahnweiler ( offers hundreds of concrete can-do tips. Among her top tips are:

Have a game plan for dealing with people on the job. Rather than winging it, prepare for high-stakes meetings and conversations by anticipating questions and rehearsing your responses.

Take the initiative in sharing information. Don't wait to be asked for updates and reports or news about your accomplishments. Find out what people need to feel confident in you and provide it to them­ahead of time.

Resist the temptation to hide behind e-mail. For every exchange, match the medium to the message­determining if texting, e-mail, phone, or face-to-face is best. Texting and e-mail may be great for quick exchanges, but they miss the mark in critical areas, including developing relationships and delivering difficult news.

Try social networking web sites such Twitter. Social networking can set the stage for connecting with others in person at meetings and events. You can introduce yourself, find common ground, and send helpful "news you can use" items in a low-key yet friendly way.

Speak up in meetings and conference calls. Try to make your first comment no more than five minutes into the session. Even a quick question, remark, or paraphrase will do. You need to be seen as a contributor, but the longer you wait, the harder it becomes.

“Learning new skills and behaviors may be uncomfortable at first," says Kahnweiler, "but with conscious repetition and refinement, you can manage your introversion and shine."

Ideal Careers for Introverts

According to Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D., co-author of 200 Best Jobs for Introverts, ideal careers for introverts who want to work by themselves and without interruption include the following:

auto mechanic


civil engineer

computer systems analyst


financial analyst

graphic designer


mail carrier

market research analyst



Tag and Catherine Goulet are founders of, a publisher of career guides offering step-by-step advice for breaking into a variety of dream careers. Visit to find the guide to your dream career.

Bookmark and Share   Print
Your Opinion Matters

Which intergenerational workplace camp are you in?