Why Quiet Influence, Why Now?
Do you work in a company? How about in a nonprofit that competes for funding?
Do you work in a government agency with contractors?
Are you an entrepreneur or freelancer who sells products or services?
Are you in technology, engineering, or science?
Do you work in sales, marketing, project management, teaching, medicine, the law, human resources, or administration?
The truth is that everyone in a professional role needs to influence others. From Seoul to Seattle, today’s competitive workplace demands that you influence a variety of situations and people, not once in a while but multiple times a day. Although influence is sometimes about really big issues and opportunities, it is also about nudging change along one small step at a time.
Noted researchers such as Jay Conger (“The Necessary Art of Persuasion”) have found that selling ideas and getting people on board is a process, not an event.1 Influence is not about forcing people to come to see things your way but about learning from others and negotiating a shared solution. This approach is well suited to the introvert temperament. It involves patience, planning, and perseverance. If we all think that the only way to get things done is to shout louder and louder and take up more center-stage space, we’ll miss the opportunities to listen, learn, and respond thoughtfully.
It may be that our society is starting to get this message. Extroverts are slowly (very slowly, some argue) realizing that we stand to lose the wisdom and contributions of more than half of the population if we don’t listen to the introverts in our world. Since the 2009 publication of my last book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength (the first book about introverted leaders), a firestorm of other books (including Susan Cain’s 2012 New York Times bestseller Quiet), articles and social media have crusaded for the cause of introverts. I have been gratified to hear the buzz of such conversations everywhere.
Moreover, even though they will never really experience how an introvert truly feels, extroverts are starting to get the differences on a personal level. They push their pens in my hand to sign a copies of The Introverted Leader for their sons, spouses, and siblings, who they never quite understood. Hope for a broader change springs from such a personal connection.
Perhaps the strongest driver for Quiet Influence, however, is how it can contribute to success in today’s shifting workplace. These four trends indicate that the time for Quiet Influence is now:
1. Flattened organizations and complex vendor, supplier, and customer interactions mean that you must, no matter what your position or personality type, be effective at getting your ideas heard. Gone are the days when you can rely on a boss or your boss’s boss to make your case for you. You have to establish critical relationships and communicate key messages yourself.
2. Going global means that you need to find multiple ways to influence an increasingly diverse set of colleagues and customers. For example, your more reflective, low-key influencing approach will be much more effective with your colleagues in Asia than a traditional extroverted one. You can use your Quiet Influence skills to make a difference with those in cultures that value a quieter approach.
3. The virtual world is evolving and ever present. In today’s society, it’s highly unlikely that you can influence a broad group of people without using digital media in purposeful ways. Introverts, as particularly thoughtful users of social media, may well be ahead of the game. They have been drawn to social media because it lets them use their strengths and better manage their communication. You and other Quiet Influencers who have already invested in learning and using social media are poised to effect tomorrow’s change more quickly than influencers who have ignored these technologies.
4. Heightened competition for business and jobs means that companies are seeking suppliers and employees who bring fresh, innovative approaches. The truth is, extrovert-centric self-promotion and loud persuasion are passé. Today, you will stand out from the crowd if you have a knack for building up others and are committed to listening instead of talking.
Because Quiet Influence is already what you do naturally, these trends offer you the impetus to enhance those skills. Your time has come. This book is written to help you and millions of other introverts recognize, develop, and highlight your innate influencing strengths. Together, you make up about 50 percent of the world’s population, and you can make a big difference in organizations and communities around the world. I encourage you to applaud the success of your strengths and practice making a difference without making a lot of noise.
I believe that as these trends intensify, the tide will turn and extroverts will want to learn Quiet Influencing strengths from the introverts they know. Many extroverts recognize that they are more effective, flexible, adaptable influencers when their influencing toolbox includes a wider variety of approaches.
I’ll admit it: I am one such extrovert. I needed to practice how to make a difference without making a lot of noise. For much of my professional life, I went along with the ill-founded belief that the Type A approach, with its emphasis on talking and finding center stage, delivered results. I am a speaker, executive coach, and author whose job it is to influence people to try new approaches in their lives. Of course, I thought, that means being “out there” and being “on.” I moved very fast, did a lot of winging it, and often found a way to attract attention. As I progressed in my career, I embodied the stereotype of the loud, assertive New Yorker I was.
Yet I grew up quietly watching people. My dad, Alvin Boretz, was a TV and film screenwriter, and many of our dinner conversations were about people, their motivations and behavior. Because Dad’s work depended on picking up the nuances of dialogue, the meanings of conversations were of endless interest to our family. It was not unusual to see my extroverted family of four sitting quietly in Cairo’s, our local Italian restaurant, listening to simultaneous conversations around us. On the way home, we would share dialogues we overheard and wonder aloud about the lives and relationships of our fellow diners. The introverts offered few verbal clues, so we had a field day guessing what could have been going on in their lives. Those quieter, low-key families, so different from ours, were especially intriguing to me. What was going on with them?
I embarked on my career and continued to be an observer of introverts. I was still people watching, and the people who continued to intrigue me were the introverts—those people who sometimes struggled in leadership positions even though they had all the power they nedded deep inside. I wrote The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength to give these talented people a guide for being in charge while being themselves.
During the research for that book and in countless interactions since its publication, I have found myself increasingly drawn to the stories and experiences of introverts. The more I speak with, listen to, coach, and write about introverts, the more I appreciate their sensibility. I have realized that the quiet language of the introvert is refreshingly different from my natural outgoing persona, and I recognize that I can incorporate introverted traits and behaviors in order to have a greater impact. For instance, instead of rushing on to that conference call at the last minute, I can spend some quiet time sitting on my deck watching the trees and reflecting on my purpose for the day. Or in lieu of randomly posting something on Facebook, I can think of the other tasks that await me. Or in working through a sticky relationship, I can write out my thoughts to gain clarity on where I stand.
All in all, I recognize that a powerful shift occurs in me when I flow into the less prominent side of my personality. When I choose to embrace my internal energy, I gain deeper insights, delve into my creativity, and become more centered. Jungian psychologists would say that I am releasing a potent force by tapping into the less dominant side of my temperament. I simply see that I have been influenced by the introverts I set out to influence.
Inspired by the Quiet Influencers I have met and the effect they had on me, I turned my attention to the question of how these successful introverts make a difference. How exactly do they challenge the status quo, provoke new ways of thinking, or inspire others to move forward? What inner strengths do they call upon to effect change? What steps do they take to influence others?
In my professional life, I have interacted with thousands of people who deepened my knowledge of the introvert experience and gave me ideas about how to answer these questions. Class discussions, questions after speeches, and problems that surfaced in coaching sessions have all contributed to my understanding and perspective. In my role as an author and journalist, I met a wide range of introverts and have written and been interviewed for a number of articles on the topic of introverts in the workplace for publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Through hallway conversations, follow-up emails, and blog comments, I have gained an even deeper understanding about how introverts experience their world and the ways in which they use their natural strengths to get through to people in powerful ways.
I have also been fortunate to be plugged into a vibrant community of Quiet Influencers. I specifically asked these professionals from a wide range of fields and organizations about their approach to influence. They often provided written responses, and I followed up with phone interviews to enhance my understanding. In their characteristically humble way, they shared about the myriad ways in which they make a difference with other people and organizations. As privacy-valuing introverts, several of these Quiet Influencers asked that their names not be used. In those cases, I have replaced their name with a first-name-only pseudonym. Many others agreed that I could use their names, and I have included those in the text.
I have done my best to capture the stories that motivated me as I sought to answer my driving question: how do they make an impact by building on their natural, quiet strengths? I then distilled their answers into the six strengths you will read about in the chapters ahead. In these strengths, I hope you find your own unique expression of Quiet Influence.