2014 was the Year of the Introvert. It seems like every time I turned around there was another podcast, book, or infographic published about how many introverts are in the workplace, how powerful their untapped potential is, and how much better the world would be if we could teach leaders and extroverts how to collaborate with introverts.
It’s true that introverts can have difficulty getting their voice heard in meetings, on committees, or in public presentations, even though a wealth of resources suggests that quiet leadership has a power all its own.
But one place where introverts can excel without having to transform society or themselves is in written communication. Writing can be an ideal medium for introverts for a plethora of reasons. Let’s explore a few of those, and talk about the ways extroverts can overcome their own natural barriers to hone the skills introverts possess inherently.
1) Introverts prefer deep discussion to small talk. If you’re an introvert, chances are you don’t like chatting on the phone for 15-20 minutes at a time with a wide selection of friends and family. Nor do you appreciate the social requirements of “get-togethers.” But given the chance to converse with someone about an issue that concerns you, you’re hooked for hours.
That’s exactly the kind of thought process that makes for great writing, because you’re willing to delve beyond the superfluous into the heart of the matter. You will follow a train of thought to its final destination.
As an extrovert, your writing may be too concise or unorganized. If the former, you need to engage in thought exercises such as mindmapping, journaling, or freewriting to explore the possibilities raised by your topic. If organization is your problem, reverse outlining or diagramming can help you put your ideas in order.
2) Introverts have an eye for detail. This makes them more likely to notice typos, misspellings, formatting errors, etc. Extroverts are more likely to be auditory or kinesthetic than visual, so they should proofread out loud or with a partner.
3) Introverts and extroverts respond differently to their environment. Introverts are deeply connected to their inner selves. So if something is “off” – physically, mentally, or emotionally – an introvert is likely to have trouble writing. Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, journaling, and deep breathing can help.
Extroverts are more reactive. So they are more likely than introverts to be affected by their physical environment. Particularly if they work in cubicles, extroverts may need white noise headphones or dark room screens. It may help extroverts to work in a conference room, or the building’s lobby. And taking a walk does not mean taking a break, particularly if you go with a colleague and a voice recorder. That time can be just as productive as the minutes you would otherwise spend at your desk tapping your pencil against your teeth.
4) Introverts are good listeners, and tend to have active, running dialogues with themselves. This suggests first that they understand the experiences and perspectives of others and second that they know how to explain things.
The foundation of any good document is creating a context to which your audience can orient themselves so they can understand the subject matter as well as your position. Introverts have a natural edge.
Extroverts may have difficulty seeing the world from the perspective of others. This would limit their ability to imagine how it feels not to know something, to move backwards to the right starting point, and to explain all the relevant details.
There’s evidence that reading fiction can improve empathy. So extroverts may want to devote some time in 2015 to reading for pleasure.
5) Introverts and extroverts check out of the writing process at different stages.
Extroverts require lots of stimuli to maintain their attention span. Tasks like researching, outlining, and revising are delightful to them because they can switch between hard copies and computer screens, use highlighters and pens and mice and the keyboard, and read different copy simultaneously.
Introverts may prefer the writing, or crafting, stage when each paragraph, sentence, and word requires careful selection. And they likely enjoy copyediting, when detailed attention to minutiae is the requisite skill.
Both introverts and extroverts need a good understanding of the Writing Cycle so they know what tasks to perform at which stage and can schedule their time and energy accordingly. Introverts should devote smaller blocks of time to brainstorming, arranging, and revising, whereas extroverts should keep crafting and copyediting to 20-30 minutes at a time. They should each devote 90-minute segments on opposing tasks: introverts – writing and copyediting; extroverts – brainstorming, arranging, and revising.
Please remember, while people may have a natural tendency toward introversion or extroversion, very few people are strictly one or the other at all times and under all circumstances. And some people, called ambiverts, exhibit both tendencies in equal measure.
I didn’t write this advice to exclude anyone, to label anyone, or to offend anyone, but to help all of us understand ourselves better. The more we know about our tendencies, our energies, and our working habits, the more we can work with those to write productively and effectively.
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