[Guest Blog] "Introverts are shy" and other myths
Published Aug 12 2019 09:16 AM 4,233 Views

Hear the word "introvert" and you might picture someone who prefers working alone, preferably wearing headphones. They may be socially awkward and prefer computer games to crowded parties. In fact, that sounds similar to the picture of a stereotypical tech worker.


It's less likely that your picture will look like this:

Sonia Cuff presenting on stage at Microsoft Ignite 2018Sonia Cuff presenting on stage at Microsoft Ignite 2018


Yet here I am, standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people, still being my introverted self.


It makes no sense that the introverted public speaker is a thing, yet you'd be really surprised how many of your favorite tech industry speakers really are introverts at heart. And they have a fabulous range of tricks that make it work. None of which involve picturing their audiences naked (as famously practiced by Winston Churchill).


Before you freak out, this isn't an article to tell you to stop using introversion as an excuse and to start public speaking. It's a post to challenge you about your introvert assumptions.


Being an introvert does not mean you lack confidence.


It's not that introverts are too shy or that they don't believe in themselves enough to speak up. I'd like to think I'm pretty good at my job & in a group situation, I'm not afraid to ask questions or give my opinion. I'm not the first one to forge ahead and do it though and I listen more than I speak (listening is an introvert's superpower!).


In fact, introversion may be biological. Studies have show introverts have a higher level or cerebral cortex stimulation and activity in their reticular activation system (RAS). Your RAS is your brain filter. It processes all of the input & stimuli from the world, discards what isn't important right now & lights up parts of the brain to process what is important. Your RAS is why you can work with some level of background noise (which is different for all of us) and why you can drive on autopilot until the car lights in front of you glow bright red and your brain tells you to step on your own brake pedal.

With a more active, stimulated brain, introverts can literally have their energy reserves depleted by lots of people contact (hello, conferences!). Extraverts require significantly more brain stimulation to feel the same level of exhaustion.


Extroverts also have a more sensitive dopamine system, which produces those feel-good hormones, and more blood flow to the areas of the brain involved in sensory & emotional experience. Our extraverted friends can wither like a houseplant if they are left alone too long and need people contact to top up their energy levels.


But what if I'm both?
You're likely to have a natural tendency to one more than the other, but how you feel on this scale can also be situational. In a group of people you know well or a family birthday, you might be the life of the party. At a tech user group meeting of 30 people, you might want to hide in the corner (or just avoid the event in the first place). You also might have a personal time limit (small or large) on how much "peopleing" you can do before you need to build a blanket fort. And that's ok!


So how do I progress my career in tech if I'm an introvert?
That's a whole other article (or Microsoft Ignite talk, hint hint!), but let me leave you with a few tips:

  • Find a team and a manager who happily let you be you. If they're 'party every night' people and you are not, do you still feel like an important part of the team?
  • Stay true to yourself, but don't use it as an excuse. Personal coping strategies are awesome, but push yourself out of your comfort zone occasionally.
  • Do what you need to do to prepare for big social occasions. Have some go-to questions for small talk like "what conference session have you gotten the most value from so far? What are you looking forward to today? Do you have one thing you'll go back and do after the conference, based on what you've heard?" These direct questions are also really good to ask introverts, because they're easier to answer than dead end questions like "are you enjoying the conference?"
  • Use your introvert superpowers! Be the listener who reads the room, then report back afterwards on what others might not have picked up. Use other communication methods like getting your thoughts down in a strategy document and sharing it.



It can be easy to feel like you're less valuable, in a world that equates noise and public profile with success. But in the tech industry especially, there's so much great work being powered by the introverts. Do conferences or co-working spaces however you need to do them and let those introvert traits shine!


And ask your favourite tech speaker - they may very well be an introvert just like you.


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