The Truth About Introverts—and Why They Make Fabulous Lawyers

by admin 30. May 2013 07:00

Today we talk with Beth Buelow, an expert on introverts—and an introvert herself. She busts a few myths, offers some valuable tips, and sheds some light on an often-misunderstood energy type.

So, let’s start by clearing up confusion about introversion, which is sometimes mistaken for shyness or social awkwardness. What does it actually mean to be an introvert?

An introvert is a person who gains energy from solitude and drains energy during social interaction. At its core, it has nothing to do with one’s social skills. This need for solitude and quiet does, however, impact the way an introvert’s relationships appear to others. We tend to have small, close circles of friends; prefer intimate group or one-on-one conversations; and need those interactions to be liberally interspersed with quiet alone time. Introverts can handle anything from a double-date to a big birthday bash. It’s simply that the more intense interactions – those that involve lots of people and carry an expectation of being highly social and engaged – must be balanced with at least an equal amount of down time.

Introverts also have a tendency to appear reserved and aloof to their more extroverted counterparts. This leads to a perception that they are shy or anti-social. Most likely, the hanging-out-at-the-edges introvert is pacing her energy and preserving it for when she needs to project it outwards for personal or professional reasons.

It has been argued that introverts make excellent lawyers; in fact, a story a few years back reported that “lawyer” was the sixth-best job for introverts—out of nearly 200 professions. What unique traits allow introverts to excel in careers like law?

Success in any particular career is based on a number of complex factors, and whether one is an introvert or extrovert certainly has an effect. Introverts tend to do best when they can dig deep into a project or topic, which generally makes them thorough researchers. They typically don’t mind long hours of solitary, focused work. Since external validation isn’t a strong motivating force, they will accept clients and cases that they believe will be worth their energy, rather than looking for lots of little wins or the flashy, attention-grabbing case.

Some may assume that an introvert wouldn’t be a good litigator; it’s true that many may prefer to stay out of the courtroom. However, the behind-the-scenes work of prepping for a trial gives an introvert a solid foundation for “turning it on” when it’s time to publically present a case. The rules and expectations that come with being in front of a judge or jury offer a degree of comfort and control.

And, yet, society often seems to favor extroverts. Why is this?

From the time we can walk and talk, there’s something of an extrovert expectation at work. Parents, teachers and caregivers are particularly watchful for signs that a child is social and plays well with others.  Those things are important; they are indicators that a child will grow up to be well-adjusted and able to form meaningful relationships. But we often carry it a bit too far, worrying that if a child is not highly social, happy in large groups, or interested in having lots of friends, there’s something wrong with her. Rather, she may simply be starting to display her introverted traits.

As a society, we reward people who are outgoing, friendly, high energy and verbal. We view with some skepticism those who are quiet, reserved, semi-social, and non-attention seeking. They’re more mysterious, because they’re not as easy to read. In reality, introverts can be outgoing, friendly and all of those things that people normally associate with extroverts; we just need to charge up before socializing and then recharge afterwards with silence, space and solitude.

What do you wish employers knew about the introverts in their firms or offices?

There are simple things that, if brought into awareness, could lead to a more introvert-friendly office:

  1. Introverts tend to be thinkers, doing the majority of their processing silently and internally (or in writing). Our silence in meetings doesn’t mean we’re in agreement, indifferent or lacking ideas, feedback or questions. Rather, we’re listening, synthesizing and formulating how we want to articulate our thoughts. We don’t speak unless there’s a reason to. If you need to hear from us at that exact moment, tell us. Then respect our answer if we say, “I can give you my first reaction, but I’ll have a better response if you give me space to think about it a bit.” 
  2. Emphasize our strengths rather than trying to fix what you may perceive is wrong with us. For instance, our performance might be strong, but our preference for solitary or small group work might be interpreted as “not being a team player.” Set introverts up for success by giving us a balance of individual and group work; leveraging our “superpowers”: writing, research, focus, and listening; and even appointing us the leader of a case or team (it’s often more comfortable for us to be in control of a group situation, rather than to be a member of the group).
  3. Don’t expect us to be extroverts. Introverts have a quiet charisma and energy that can bring about a feeling of calm, safety and deliberation to an otherwise fast-paced work environment. If you tell us to be more social, demand we stop being so quiet, and ignore our need for some level of autonomy, we won’t be as effective as we would be if our natural preferences were honored.

Last, what advice do you have for introvert lawyers when it comes to networking and business development? Are there strategies that are less energy-draining?

There’s a temptation to try to be an extrovert in these situations. Instead, I encourage people to find the part of them that is naturally extroverted and meld it with their introverted need to listen, observe and process.  Here are four quick tips:

  1. When you attend an event, take on the mental role of host. Plan to focus on making others welcome by smiling, asking questions and drawing out those who look uncomfortable. Don't spend lots of energy trying to be dazzling; be fully present, curious and sincere. Own your energy.
  2. Expand your definition of networking and where business development may happen. Most introverts don’t like Happy Hour or unstructured networking events. Business relationships can start anywhere – a lecture, book signing, workshop, presentation or retreat.  I like workshops, because it’s a mix of like-minded people, potential clients and collaborators. There’s also a focus, so there’s a natural topic for conversation.
  3. Above all, show up with your natural curiosity, sense of humor and ability to listen. We all want to be seen and heard, and you’re giving a tremendous gift to a prospect or colleague when you really listen and give her your undivided attention.
  4. If you’re at an event, preserve your sanity by taking breaks as needed, and by choosing to leave when you’re ready to leave. Share your energy while it feels good. When you’ve decided that you’ve had enough, say goodbye to the people you want to connect with later. You don’t need an elaborate excuse to leave. Then, take a much deserved and needed rest.

Beth was 7 when she outlined the marketing plan for her first entrepreneurial venture, 23 when she learned she was an introvert, and 38 when, in 2010, she put the two together to create The Introvert Entrepreneur. Her message resonates with introverts who want to amplify their strengths, and extroverts who want to understand why introverts are so doggone quiet. She is a professional coach, blogger, podcaster, speaker, and author of Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert. Beth is based in the Pacific Northwest and serves introverts worldwide. 

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