Jul 8, 2014

When Being Agreeable Is Not Helpful: How to Embrace Your Introversion In Business

Do you habitually agree with what somebody is telling you, without really thinking about what you are being told? In our small talk-laden society, it is natural for us to expect that we will engage in several conversations at a superficial level, where the expectation on your part is to simply acknowledge what is being said, to allow the discussion to flow through unobstructed to the next topic. Although we might expect this to be a normal characteristic of small talk, when does this become risky behaviour?

In the business setting, over the past several years I have found that small talk has found itself a home in offices and boardrooms, being equally accepted as a medium of exchange on the same level as the written word. Where this becomes risky, for us non-verbal processors, is when we encounter a small talk situation in a professional setting, and we resort to extending the same pleasantries to our colleagues as we would in a purely social setting.

When you are "small talking" in a business setting, and you say that you agree with what is being proposed to be supportive of your peers, without thinking the ideas through on your own, are you really helping the situation, or are you helping to manufacture the future consequences of the bad ideas that you are allowing to take root? As non-verbal processors, it is natural for the introverted mindset to require extra time to process new ideas and suggestions, so it is illogical to expect that we will solve all of the world's problems after a quick chit-chat with our friends and colleagues. For this reason, it is ok to be the quiet person in the conversation, because ultimately, you are helping yourself by doing so.

"Sometimes saying nothing, can mean everything."
-- The Bird Of Hermes

In my own experiences in software consulting, I have found that the best approach to an ill-conceived idea can be to keep quiet, return to my creative space and build a quick prototype or alternative approach to show to the team a short while later. That way, I have avoided getting caught in the trap of "talking up", or arguing against the merits of a bad idea with my peers, and the original idea has become the basis for a smarter approach.

As introverts, we understand that there are times where we need to play our strengths to shadow our perceived weaknesses, and in a business setting, our ability to show is quite often stronger than our ability to tell.

This philosophy is largely what defines my life and how I choose to live it. While I can't always be an equal participant in the conversations I get pulled into, I know that I can create shiny new things and ideas that people will want to talk about later. In this way, I think that introverts can ultimately control the conversation, in an indirect but very powerful way.

What do you think? Have you ever wished you could take back a "yes" or an "I agree" from a conversation you had with your extroverted peers?


  1. Yes! I am often not an equal participant in conversations either. Either I am too quick to agree and then am annoyed about myself for being a people-pleaser, or then I disagree in a way that comes across as too harsh, and I am annoyed about myself for being too critical. If I can write an e-mail though, I can be very diplomatic. :) I don't know why I am still often surprised about feeling and behaving like a different person in conversations and in e-mails and why I am still annoyed with myself about this. I guess I often forget that this can be explained with my introversion and not with some problem in my character. Thanks for reminding me.

    1. Thanks zinemin, I know exactly what you mean about feeling like we behave differently when we communicate over e-mail, versus communicating in "real time". There is absolutely no problem in our character when we act differently in conversations, as introverts we just need a little more time to process the information - because we have a lot more to think about :)

    2. Also, here is a great blog post over at Introvert Spring that discusses different situations that are likely to trigger "introvert guilt" - I found it helpful for understanding how to better deal with standing my own ground in extroverted situations: