A version of this article was originally published in AP Perspectives, an online magazine for the members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
I’ve heard too many fundraisers who are introverts express surprise for their achievements at work. They say the word, “introvert,” quietly, as though they’re confessing an embarrassing flaw.
This way of thinking perplexes me.
What if these fundraisers are successful because of their innate temperament, not in spite of it? Who better to build meaningful relationships with donors than someone whose brain is wired for deep reflection and authenticity? How much more successful might they be if they stop fighting themselves and celebrate who they are?
Here’s what’s really true – the fundraising profession wouldn’t survive long without all the traits we bring as introverts. We’re key pieces of an important industry.
When we feel misunderstood at work, however, it’s painful.
I’ve experienced this myself. I’ve enjoyed being part of a cohesive and successful team at work, and I’ve also experienced the opposite – feeling like I don’t fit in because I was born to be quiet and thoughtful, rather than gregarious and outgoing.
Why am I talking about this with you now? We have an opportunity to create a culture of wellbeing in the post-pandemic world, and this includes tackling all issues of equity.
Many great minds are speaking and writing about the need for gender and racial equity, and I support them. Today, however, I’m writing about something different that I dream of for the nonprofit world. It’s an equity of temperament, where we no longer favor extravert characteristics, but cherish each employee for who they are authentically.
The coronavirus highlighted the detrimental ways we already worked, including a bias against introverts. When we don’t fit in, it’s natural for us to feel cynical about our colleagues. Cynicism, unfortunately, is one of the symptoms of burnout, so this is a giant wake-up call! It’s time to turn our society upside down and celebrate (rather than hide) our remarkable traits of introversion.
As a previous fundraiser, burnout survivor, and introvert since birth, I’m now a professional coach, helping employees who are burning out to renew their passion. If you want to break away from limiting beliefs that don’t serve you, contact me for a free strategy session.
In a previous job, I was asked to attend a networking event, and was told that I had to collect the business cards of 10 random people. I’m an introvert, and while I loved cultivating meaningful relationships with my major donors, I detest networking events (because of the inauthentic small talk and, well. . . strangers).
While my extraverted colleagues had a blast, I felt like I was being punished as I slapped a smile on my face and coaxed business cards out of people’s pockets. I returned home with 10 cards in my bag but feeling like I’d abused my soul.
Introverts are introspective, private, and thoughtful, and they recharge by spending time alone. They often think before making decisions and acting. Extraverts, however, are action-oriented and expressive, and they recharge by socializing. There is an introvert-extrovert spectrum that accounts for all our nuances. The brains of extroverts and introverts are different, and we’re likely born this way.
As you know, we’ve celebrated the traits of extraverts for generations. I had assumed I was in the small minority, as an introvert. A recent Positive Psychology article, however, describes research in 1998 where introverts made up 50.7 percent of the population in a random sample by Myers-Briggs.
Did you get that? Introverts may make up one-half of the population. Yet until the pandemic, we lived in a world designed for our outgoing friends. The coronavirus has distilled our days into the most meaningful activities, and many introverts have thrived with the solitude and focus.
You can take a quick quiz at IntrovertZone to better understand your own temperament.
We have an opportunity to create a world where we live by our own rules. Let’s start by celebrating who we really are:
- We do our best work alone, when we can focus intensely.
- We enjoy deeply understanding our relationships as well as our favorite solitary pastimes.
- We prefer in-depth conversations that are meaningful and authentic.
- We enjoy a few close relationships rather than hanging out with a large group.
- We’re observant and in tune with our rich, inner world.
- We’re expressive writers.
- We’re great listeners. In fact, we may listen more than we talk.
In our new world, you can decline invitations without giving an excuse or feeling guilty. Your downtime is sacred, so don’t give it away to please other people who are judging you for being different.
Tips for Team Leaders
Many employees, not just introverts, feel anxious about re-entering society after spending a year social-distancing. We introverts are hesitant to return to a noisy world that was never designed for us, and there are aspects to the lockdown that we not-so-secretly wish would remain. With this in mind:
- Allow your employees to choose whether they’ll work from home or in the office. Introverts discovered the joy of focused, uninterrupted work during the pandemic, and they don’t want to go back.
- Also, keep in mind that you’ll want to remain fair and transparent about how you give promotions and salary increases. It’s possible that extraverts and men will choose to work in the office, and they could easily draw attention away from the employees working from home.
- Help your employees schedule ample time alone as they return to the office.
- Have a sense of humor as you share your own struggles with re-entry after the pandemic, creating a safe space for your employees to share too. Let them know they’re not alone.
- Celebrate the strengths of both introverts and extroverts. Help extroverted team members acquire skills commonly associated with being an introvert, such as listening, writing, and observing. Likewise, constructively help introverts who want to build their skills, such as public speaking (while also recognizing that this will drain their energy, even after they’ve mastered it.)
- Reconsider the open-plan office. It is challenging for introverts to focus and do their best work. If this design must stay, allow employees to use noise-cancelling headphones or to work from home.
- Don’t ask introverts why they’re so quiet, implying it’s a negative trait. Being quiet means we’re processing ideas, and this is normal and good. A fair question is – why are others so loud?
- Introverts are good listeners, and they want to be heard as well. You can offer them your ear as a leader, in a one-on-one meeting.
- Consider the impact that networking events have on your introverted employees. How can you set them up for success? They may enjoy the challenge of having a meaningful, transformative conversation with just one person.
No matter your innate temperament, stop fighting how fabulous you are. When you embrace your genuine self, you model for others how good it feels to be authentic, and change can begin in your organization.
We can do it!
P.S. If you have beliefs that are holding you back, contact me for a free strategy session to see if coaching is right for you.