Guest article: Do introverts have fewer chances to get picked for an expatriate assignment?
A guest article from Mareike Lott
Throughout their lives, a lot of introverts are confronted with being called “too shy” “soft-spoken” “cautious” or even “aloof”. Even as children, quieter and perhaps somewhat reserved children are encouraged by their parents to open up, to speak louder, to simply be more extroverted.
Yet introverts make up a significant part of our society and have as much to offer as extroverts. Yet there is a societal preference for extroverted behaviour, which can make it difficult for introverted workers to be promoted or tasked with leading large teams, let alone being posted abroad.
In this article, I want to show you some of the many strengths’ introverts have, why they can be an excellent choice for an assignment abroad and give practical tips on how to promote introverted team members in an extroverted environment.
Introversion in society and the work environment
First of all, introversion is a normal, healthy part of personality and temperament. There is absolutely no need for introverts to change their basic traits or transform into a different person. They are the deep thinkers, the creative minds and also the innovators of our society. But unfortunately, many people and modern workplaces tend to be geared towards extroverts. Between elaborate PowerPoint presentations, big company and team events, presentations and open-space offices without walls, introverts often feel overwhelmed. Moreover, our society and many employers value employees who speak up in meetings, pitch ideas out loud in brainstorming sessions, and those who can speak and present in front of groups with ease.
Despite this societal preference for extroversion, introverts make up 30 to 50 per cent of our population. Therefore, it is important to understand introversion in order to avoid unconscious bias while supporting introverts in the best possible way in the work environment.
Differences between introversion and extroversion
First of all, introversion and extroversion are different traits of character and temperament. The two "extremes" are at opposite ends of a spectrum with "ambiverts" in the middle. Of course, there is not only the introvert or extrovert, but there are also different degrees of expression. From people who need social contact and events now and then to people who prefer to withdraw completely, everything is possible and, above all, normal.
The difference between the two lies in what they draw their energy from and how they give it off. Introverts expend energy by being with others. Socialising with other people depletes their mental batteries and they can only "recharge" when they are alone or with close friends or family. Extroverts experience just the opposite here: closeness to others recharges their batteries and loneliness drains them. In addition, introverts' brains are more sensitive to dopamine, which leads them to take fewer risks or avoid intense experiences such as loud noises, bright lights, roller coasters or the like.
The strengths of introverts and tips for dealing with them
Thanks to their intelligence, creativity and sense of innovation, there are many strong introverted leaders who have gone far: Steve Jobs, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates and Albert Einstein are among the more introverted people. So people with introverted traits have many wonderful strengths that are sometimes overlooked.
Unfortunately, many team leaders do not know how best to lead introverts so that they can continue to develop. It is equally important that not only the team leader but the whole team is made aware of how best to work together. Introverts and extroverts are very different characters and need to work together smoothly without feeling offended. In addition, it is not only the professional competencies that matter in a posting abroad, but also the soft skills, because this helps to decide whether the posting is a success or is terminated prematurely.
"Our culture is biased against quiet and reserved people, but introverts are responsible for some of humanity's greatest achievements." Susan Cain
Overview of some outstanding strengths of introverts
1st quality: introverts don't just blather on and share their opinions loudly. They choose their words deliberately and place great importance on the quality and meaning of what they say. They think first and examine problems analytically. When they then speak, the content definitely has substance and is worth listening to. This is a strength that can help them to quickly build up a good standing in the new team and to convince with sound knowledge.
Tip for leaders and teams: As a leader and team, you always have the task of creating a space in which the introvert dares to speak. Maybe it's more at the end of a meeting or after the meeting in a one-on-one conversation.
2 Creativity: Introverts are at the forefront when it comes to rethinking and inventing new topics. They think a lot, analyse, and reflect. A great strength when it comes to tackling new projects and coming up with big ideas. And isn't that exactly what expats are expected to do when they are posted abroad? Expats are expected to create new impulses and think big through their experience in other countries. Introverts will be convincing here.
Tip for leaders and teams: make sure that introverted team members have a place of retreat where they can think and work undisturbed. Working from home for a few days certainly helps too.
3. Focus: Introverts are not easily distracted. They can work long and hard on a topic until it is completed. This can motivate the whole team to complete projects despite the hustle and bustle of everyday life, whether at home or abroad.
Tip for leaders and teams: as a leader, when choosing projects, think carefully about which ones might suit introverted team members more, so that the whole team can benefit.
4. listening: This trait can be easily dismissed as many people consider themselves good listeners. But the truth is that there are very few who really are. And they are mainly found among introverts. Many people only half-listen to their conversation partners while they are already thinking about what they want to answer. They are with themselves, not with the others. (Recommendation: A book that I think everyone should read, whether introvert or extrovert, is "Time to think" by Nancy Kline).
Introverts are very good observers; they take the time to process all the information they receive and filter out the essentials from words and body language. This also makes them excellent managers, as they are well aware of and able to pick up on the moods and needs of each individual. Especially in the case of a foreign assignment, listening and learning about cultural conditions and the new everyday working life is essential at the beginning in order to be successful and happy in the new (working) environment.
Tip for leaders and teams: As a team member and leader, you can also work on your active listening so that you really hear the messages that need to get through. Your whole team will benefit from this.
5. mindfulness: introverts overthink big decisions and weigh carefully where the pros and cons of a decision lie. Unlike extroverts, who tend to be more risk-averse, introverts have a high need for safety. This tendency to make well thought-out decisions makes introverts good leaders. This strength is also an advantage when on assignment and working with a new team in a new country. You will get many different opinions, discuss them, and weigh them up. The new colleagues and employees feel heard, included in the decision-making process and respected. This helps to build a relationship of trust in the medium and long term and strengthens team cohesion.
Tip for leaders and teams: Depending on the industry you are in, you can encourage your introverted team members to sometimes take risks when necessary or, on the contrary, use their in-depth analysis and knowledge to reassess and make an informed decision.
6. analytical thinking: researching, analysing, comparing, developing strategies - all this is a great strength and passion of introverts. Especially in situations that require a lot of analysis and with confusing topics, this quality is very helpful and helps to find good solutions. It is perfect to have someone in the team who enjoys these tasks. When working abroad, this quality can also help you to get a quick overview of the market and to understand the local conditions better and, above all, faster.
Tip for leaders and teams: Mix different characters for a project, which can create a double learning effect. The analyst may be able to teach a great presenter something about statistics and analysis and at the same time learn something about rhetoric and stage presence from him.
7. calmness: The radiance of inner calmness is a great gift of introverts and has a positive and calming effect on those around them. In hectic everyday life, they often act as a haven of calm and can also positively influence conversations through their calm manner. When getting to know a new foreign team, all the new information and things to learn, also an important quality to avoid giving a stressed or overwhelmed impression.
Tip for leaders and teams: Colleagues and team leaders should only be careful not to overload their colleagues, they also need rest now and then to recharge their batteries.
8. independence: Introverts like to be alone, whether in private or at work. However, this also means that they are very independent and can work well on their own without constant supervision. Especially when working abroad, this is also an important competence to be able to work in a focused manner and thus develop long-term strategies for success.
Tip for leaders and teams: As team leaders, they must actively give this freedom, but also recognise that introverts will also give this freedom to their team members, thus strengthening trust.
Do introverts have fewer career opportunities?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes, until team leaders, teams and extroverted work environments begin to rethink and see introversion as a strength, not a weakness! Introverts can be excellent performers and leaders and, as listed above, can do a great job with their many strengths and skills in international assignments. Companies need to stop primarily rewarding, valuing and favouring extroverted profiles in promotions or international assignments.
As a good team leader has to pay attention to who in the team may be more introverted or display introverted traits. Then, they have to accept this and see it not as a weakness but as a complementary strength in the whole team. Take time to listen, don't force them to work full time in the team but give them the space to work on their own projects, give them space to express their opinion without pressure, encourage them in an extroverted environment. Support in preparing before big presentations and boosting their self-confidence can be a viable way.
Change can only happen if each team leader critically examines themselves and learns to appreciate and encourage the introverted way of working more.
Make them realise that their characteristics are good, they are comfortable in their introverted comfort zone and can return to it at any time to recharge their batteries. However, at some moments they need to leave it, for example to present or express their opinion. Introverts need to learn this step by step and need your support.
Don't just make it your mission as a team leader, but involve the whole team. A personality test can help people understand their style, strengths and the value they bring to the team. Your team members will understand their own communication preferences and those of others. This makes communication work as equals and improves the overall teamwork.
'Time to think'
by Nancy Kline and Cassell
The Introvert Advantage
by Marty Olsen Laney
'The irresistible introvert
by Michaela Chung
'The power of introverts'
Be sure to consider them for promotions or international assignments. With the right support, introverts will make great and successful leaders. Don't just think about the many professional challenges, but also the cultural challenges that come with a posting. By being calm, researching, analytical and good listeners, introverts may actually be more likely to adapt well to a new culture and new circumstances and be happy in the new country in the long run. And that's what matters in the end: Developing good and talented people and putting them in the right places (abroad or at home) so that the company and the employees benefit from their development.